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Author of "The Coasts of Illusion" 

"Sycamore Shores/' "The Winding Road/' 

"Bubbling Waters/' and "Journey to Japan' 9 

To reach felicity one 
must cross water/' 


New York 






Portions of this book have appeared in the Cincinnati 
Times-Star and are reprinted with its permission. A frag- 
ment is from the New York Evening Mail and is reprinted 
by permission of the New York World-Telegram. The 
verse in the chapter "By Care Forgot" is from the author's 
book The Winding Road and is reprinted by permission 
of the Caxton Press. Acknowledging these courtesies with 
appreciation, the author would also make special acknowl- 
edgment for critical aid and counsel to his wife, Beatrice 
Sturges Firestone, companion on most of these trips. 



Preface i 1 


I Down the Ohio 15 

II Toward Summer 26 

III Three Rivers 36 

IV Three Towns 49 
V By Care Forgot 6s 

VI Red Boundary Line 75 

VII The Trail of Tears 88 

VIII Steamboat Days 103 

IX River Port 114 

X Along the Water Front 1*5 

XI Toward the Mountains 135 

XII Calling on the French 143 

XIII Moonlight Boats 153 

XIV The Upper Mississippi 160 
XV They Lived Beside It 168 




XVI Paddle Wheels 1 77 

XVII Between Battlemented Crags 185 

XVIII Redskins 199 

XIX They Bear Tribute 2 1 o 

XX Down the Missouri % 1 8 

XXI Cajoling Caliban 229 

XXII Poplar Shores 242 

Bibliographical Notes 253 



Between pages 32 and 33 
Steamboat 'round the Bend 
On America's Greatest Waterways 
Typical Ohio River Scenery 

Barges on the Mississippi 
Cincinnati, from an Old Print 

Old-time Excursion Boat 

Cypress swamp in Louisiana 

Dike system under Construction 

Dikes retarding erosion of bank 

Dikes build up land on river bend 

Old and new in steamboating 

Between pages 128 and 129 
"Steamboat cominT'~i94i version 

Flowing South 

The Race between the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee 
The Gordon C. Greene on the Mississippi 

Magnolia Hall in Natchez 

Excursion Steamer on the Ohio 

Making Fast the Towline 

Roustabouts relax 

Forty years a pilot 

Closing the Locks 

Loading a river steamboat 


The rivers of the world were its first highways and over 
most o the earth are still its greatest. Beside them, in 
Egypt, in Babylonia, and in China, men first associated 
themselves for common ends and won to civilization. This 
service the Danube, the Rhine, and the Volga extended to 
Europe. On the rivers of Africa and South America more 
primitive cultures have been nurtured. 

In belief that a similar picture has been sketched in his 
own country, the author has sought to learn, by travel upon 
them, something of the larger streams that flow down its 
Great Valley. This book tells what he saw and heard and 
thought. It is about packets with their crews and passen- 
gers, and the ruder craft and crews that were before them; 
about the rivers themselves with their shores, and about 
trading posts, forts, outlaw camps, and towns that arose 
beside them, usually where a tributary came in. The tribu- 
taries, many of them, came from far places, and so have 
brought with them some glimpses of peoples, savage or 
only half savage, dwelling in or passing through a land of 
buffalo herds, prairie-dog towns, and little rain. On its far 
horizon is the loom of snow-clad peaks. 

Though this record be but as driftwood soon to rest on 
a sand bar or sink in a backwater, the author is content 
that for some moments he was afloat upon great waters, 
passenger on what he conceives to be the stream of time. 
Rivers are its symbol. 

C. B. F. 

July, 1941 




THIS was a navigation of con- 
sequence. Not in years had any packet moved upon the 
inland waterways in winter. Yet we were doing what every- 
body on our side of the mountains yearned to do when the 
Republic was young. To folk in the haggard frontier settle- 
ments and little humdrum towns, and along the dirt roads 
leading to them, every side-wheeler was a floating palace, 
and a trip to brilliant, exotic New Orleans, with its foreign 
tongues and wines, its beautiful women of all shades, its 
incessant dueling, and its strange beguiling cookery, was 
something to be talked about for a lifetime. Shadowy pack- 
ets seemed to move before and behind us, and the scent 
of patchouli, the swish of crinoline, the click of poker 
chips, were in the winds of memory, if not in those of the 

For me this was not only an adventure in itself but an- 
other step in a plan to enlarge my acquaintance, so far as 
might be, with the great waterways of the Valley. Of two 
of them I knew something already, the upper Ohio and the 
Middle Mississippi. What I saw of them, though that was 
before the present trip, is set down later in this narrative. 
In years subsequent to the present trip I voyaged also on 
the Upper Mississippi and the Missouri. This book is the 
harvest of rather more than five thousand miles of river 
travel covered in five vacations, in 1930, 1937, 1938, 1940 
and 1941, together with side-glances at tributary streams 
which have something to tell, and gleanings from briefer 
journeys by land and water at other times and places. In 


one chapter I have ventured to carry the story of Moon- 
light Boats into a dim past. Elsewhere I have been content 
to pause and look around at a typical river port, which is 
my own Cincinnati. 

So, on a February afternoon in 1938, we set out from 
Cincinnati, which is, and long has been, not only a good 
place to study riverside life but the one place to start from 
if you are going south. With the Queen City at one end and 
the Crescent City at the other to use the terms of baroque 
yesterdaysa river trip opens and closes right. Though the 
two towns pulled apart as the railroads brought them nearer 
together, through most of their history they have been inti- 
mately related, akin in sentiment and interest, holding in a 
common keeping the gleaming highway that sweeps down 
through the continent from the farther side of the moun- 
tains to the Gulf. While one was the southernmost outpost 
of Yankeedom and the other the Creole capital, they un- 
derstood each other. 

In the steamboat heyday the people of Cincinnati were 
founding schools, forming clubs, starting newspapers, writ- 
ing books, debating creeds and cultures and that was per- 
haps the Yankee side, which led one writer to call the city 
"the wild half-sister of Athens and Florence." The other 
side, which was musical, came up from the South, and 
found a home in the town where it seemed that everybody 
was either making pianos, organs, or melodeons, or play- 
ing upon them, or singing beside them. There Foster began 
writing the songs of slavery. There the minstrel show was 
born Ethiopian minstrelsy it was called. Thence the first 
showboats were sent out to play the streams of the Old 
West, the bayous of the Deep South. Cincinnati folk-art 
went around the world, and in all of it was the sound of 
flowing water. One other thing a book came in the 1850'$ 
from the town on the right bank of the Ohio, and though 


its scenes were Southern it did not take so well in the land 
it pictured. 

I had descended the Ohio before when it was summer. 
My second journey, in good and numerous company, has 
left with me a memory of high water, and winding shores 
monumented with tall, white-armed sycamores, and high 
framing hills white with a late winter snowfall. In a strange 
setting the familiar panorama passed anew: the mouth of 
Big Bone Creek; the hamlet of Rabbit Hash; Vevay where 
Edward Eggleston lived and Lafayette visited and French 
Swiss made a good wine; Madison's ruinous boatyards; on 
a river balcony above them the silver clash of cataracts; the 
Falls of the Ohio, the other name of which is Louisville; 
Jeffersonville, where half the steamboats of the country 
were built; Owensboro with its night-rider memories; 
Evansville, former Klan stronghold; Henderson, where Au- 
dubon ran a flour mill; Shawneetown, which was wicked 
once upon a time; the ox-bend curves of the lower river; 
Mound City, where showboats are repaired; Paducah at 
the mouth of the Tennessee; Fort Massac, set up by the 
French to guard the mouth of the Ohio; the mouth of the 
Ohio and Cairo, often battered by floods, recumbent be- 
hind its sea wall, dreaming an old dream of greatness that 
was never to be, content perhaps that it was the jumping-off 
place for the strategy that won the Civil War. 

Have I traveled too fast, slighted too much, in covering 
five hundred miles of challenging river scenery and more 
than one chapter of high history in a single paragraph? I 
shall descend the river again from Cincinnati to Cairo in 
a second paragraph moving faster, admitting more detail, 
and yet again omitting much. Steamboats steer by govern- 
ment lights (sometimes called beacons) and by daymarks. 
All of these river guideposts bear names and the names tell 
you things; perhaps start you dreaming. A novel might be 


written about almost any of the river lights noted here 
usually just a lantern hanging from a sycamore trunk on a 
lonely point in the woods. A good factual book on the life 
of valley folk might emerge from a study of all these names 
taken together. 

Here, then, are the lights-just a few of them taken at 
random but in order that I passed while going down the 
river: Turkey Bottom, Stringtown, Aurora Bend, Rising 
Sun, Gunpowder, Patriot Bend, Jackson Landing, Sugar 
Creek, Notch Lick, Locust Creek, Indian Kentucky, Broad- 
way Hollow, Grassy Flats, Towhead Island, Canal Head, 
Fishtown, Mosquito Creek, Falling Spring, Tobacco Bend, 
Haunted Hollow, Paris Landing, Cold Friday, Big Blue 
River, Indian Hollow, Schooner Point, Wolf Creek, Poor 
House, Cloverport, Hog Point, Corn Island, Honey Creek, 
Little Hurricane, French Island, Yankeetown, Scuffletown, 
Dutch Bend, Tobacco Patch, Club House, Slim Island, 
Poker Point, Tradewater, Goat Hill, Sister, Old Maids, 
Brick House, Future City, Elisha Woods. 

There is also a government light at Cave-in-Rock on the 
Illinois shore, and there has been more than one book in 
the name of it. While flatboats coming down the river in 
the long ago were liable to attack from Indians almost any- 
where on the right bank, the danger from white outlaws 
was confined to a hundred-mile stretch of wild water be- 
tween the Kentucky towns of Red Bank (Henderson) and 
Smithland, at the mouth of Cumberland. The pirates that 
operated on these waters had their hold at Cave-in-Rock 
near the head of Hurricane Bars. There in the 1820*5, Bully 
Wilson, a Virginian, ran what he called a House for Enter- 

It had a demure past. Zadok Cramer's Navigator, 1814 
edition, speaks of it as a House of Nature, just above high- 
water mark, with a mouth sixty feet wide, an arch twenty- 


five feet high, a depth of more than a hundred feet. It was 
part of a "most stupendous, curious, and solid work of 
nature/' in the shape of a perpendicular limestone wall. 
There emigrants used to land and wagon their goods across 
the Illinois country. There crews of wrecked flatboats found 
harborage. Sometimes families spent the winter in the cave. 
Thousands of men had cut their names on its walls. 

"The cedars on top/' says Cramer, "appear to be the 
haunt of birds of prey, for what reason I know not." Not 
many years after this was printed, birds of prey were in the 
cave, and they were human. By false lights, or false pilot- 
ing, or sabotage under cover of darkness, or daylight at- 
tacks in skiffs, they wrecked descending flatboats, robbed 
their crews, and often made way with them. It is said that 
Wilson had fourscore men who would do his bidding. If 
report is correct, outlaws of the Natchez Tracethe Harpes, 
Mason, and Murrel used to visit him and were warmly 
welcomed. I have not heard that his tavern was ever dis- 
turbed by a sheriff or by vigilantes. It faded out when 
steamboats became common. An evil spot it was. But I do 
not credit all that has been printed about it, because some 
of the source books were yellowbacks, and because its most 
pictorial episode of outrage seems to have been pirated 
from Byron's "Mazeppa." 

From a veteran fellow passenger, born in an Indiana river 
town, a professional man of standing, I heard a thing that 
the books have scamped. The flatboats, which filled the 
foreground of an outlaw saga, kept going down the rivers 
for two generations after the steamboats appeared, and in- 
deed almost to our own time. When I questioned this, the 
veteran replied: "I ought to know. I have been a flatboat 
hand myself, I was just a boy, of course, though only a 


little younger than Lincoln when he took a flatboat to 
New Orleans. His trip was in 18258, mine in 1885." 

Then he told about it. His craft lay at the foot of Cin- 
cinnati's Vine Street, where it took on all the empty bar- 
rels that it could find. Then it floated down to Louisville 
for more barrels. Thereafter it filled them, picking up pota- 
toes and side meat at farm landings on the lower Ohio and 
the Mississippi for some distance below Cairo. When it 
had a cargo, it set off midstream for the Creole capital. In 
its depths were three thousand barrels of potatoes. It was 
a covered boat with sleeping bunks and a cook gdlley in 
the stern; the boy worked in the galley. The pilot presided 
over a long sweep at the stern and had three men to help 
him push it to and fro. Another hand with a sweep was at 
the bow, still others to port and starboard. 

From Memphis on, the boat "coasted," as the phrase 
goes, selling produce at Natchez, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, 
and wherever else it found a market along the Mississippi's 
shores. Setting forth at the beginning of November, it 
reached New Orleans in mid-January of the following year. 
There the entire cargo was sold to advantage, and the boat 
itself, the lumber in it fetching two hundred dollars. It 
was a highly profitable trip, netting its owners three thou- 
sand dollars. 

The boy took passage back on the steamboat Golden 
Rule. It had to battle floating ice from Memphis up. One 
incident only of the upstream trip remained in the nar- 
rator's memory half a century afterward. On an ice floe 
were two wild geese perhaps fifty yards from the boat. "I'll 
try a shot," said the mate, and picked up a small target 
rifle. A single discharge broke the neck of one bird, a wing 
of the other. The packet edged over to the floe and put out 
a gangplank, and a black deck hand brought in the geese, 
That day's dinner was one not to be forgotten. 


"The steamboats never hurt the flatboats," concluded my 
informant. "It was the railroads that put all drifting craft 
out of business." 

There is a government light at the mouth of Wabash. 
We passed it at night. Mouths of rivers are important to 
me, most of all the Wabash. It was just a stretch of uneasy 
water on which, at my request, the pilot played a search- 
light; but it was ultimate Wabash. Aforetime I had written 
somewhat of this and other rivers of the Old West * and 
it was the only stream whose closing moments I did not 
see. There was no Wabash navigation, there were no good 
roads, and at that time no steamboats passed by on the 
Ohio. "All I know," I said then, "is that the river washes 
Posey County long a synonym/ says Meredith Nicholson, 
'for any dark and forbidding land' and follows an un- 
stable course through dreary clay banks into the parent 
stream. From flood to flood the boundary of two states 
swings back and forth along it." 

In the following year the engineer of a great railroad 
took up the quest for me. Setting out from the Hoosier 
town of Mt. Vernon, fifteen miles to the east of the river's 
mouth, he wandered over a country that is something like 
the delta of the Mississippi flat, swampy, overflowed in 
high water. Everywhere were fields of corn so tall that he 
rode through them as through a jungle, seeing nothing 
much but sky overhead. The last three miles of the expedi- 
tion were along wagon lanes among the corn, lanes so nar- 
row that the stalks and ears thumped both sides of the car. 

With one exception nobody lived there, though there 

were great barns and cribs where the corn was stored. The 

exception was a Hoosier squatter and his wife, domiciled 

in a houseboat drawn up on the river bank. Through this 

*Cf. Sycamore Shores, pp. 178-191. 


flat land the Wabash was rushing at four miles an hour. It 
was half a mile wide, so wide, indeed, that he mistook it 
for the Ohio which was no wider, followed it in the wrong 
direction, lost his way amid the towering corn. The tum- 
bling banks of both rivers are only six or seven feet high, 
so that the country spends a good deal of time under water. 
At their confluence is Wabash Island. 

Always I scanned the outlets of other rivers, wishing that 
travelers before me had turned into them and written more 
about them, instead of giving them but a passing glance. 
Not much has been added to what Cramer set down more 
than a hundred years ago. Here is his record mainly in his 
own words: The Licking is a considerable river of Ken- 
tucky navigable for seventy miles with small crafts. At the 
mouth of the Great Miami is a sand bar; here ends the 
State of Ohio. The mouth of the Kentucky, which is a large 
river of the State of Kentucky, affords a good safe harbor 
for boats, particularly when the waters are a little up. Bear 
Grass Creek affords at its mouth one of the best harbors 
for boats on the Ohio. Above the mouth of Wabash is seen 
a cabin, the remnant of a trading establishment, but the 
waters proving detrimental it was abandoned; here ends 
the Indiana Territory and the Illinois commences. At the 
mouth of Cumberland are a small town and a warehouse 
for the deposit of goods up that river. The town has a post 
office, two stores, and fifteen or twenty houses. A planter 
shows itself in the middle of the Tennessee, or Cherokee, 
just above its mouth. 

To this scanty record I add one or two items unnoted by 
Cramer and most other travelers. The Licking enters the 
Ohio at an obtuse angle to the flow of due stream, which 
is unusual; once there was a fort on the right bank. The 
Great Miami and the Little find new mouths every year or 
so. On the banks of Kentucky's Salt River, which Cramer 


ignores, most of the gold of the world is now buried; in its 
waters is buried the secret of a haunting political legend. 
Green River, which Cramer dismissed with a word, is deep 
and navigable, and was the ante-bellum route to Mammoth 

I would rather not talk about the Tennessee, but it is in 
the picture. Since I went up and down it ten years ago, 
things have been done there, and the best light I can get is 
that they are wrong. I trust that those who ought to know 
are mistaken, but here is what they say: Dams were built in 
the Tennessee Valley to control floods, improve navigation, 
develop water power. Because a true flood-control dam is 
kept empty until floods come along, when it draws off their 
surplus waters, while power dams are kept full or nearly so 
in order to develop power, the TVA dams can do little to 
lower the crest of a flood less than three inches down at 
Cairo, for example, in the great flood of 1937. The prob- 
lem of periodic, short-lived inundations of the rich bottom 
lands of the Tennessee Valley has been met by drowning 
them hundreds of thousands of acres under what are now 
called the Great Lakes of the South. A number of these 
lakes, averaging about fifty miles long, have piled up be- 
hind the dams. The biggest, which is being created at Gil- 
bertsville, twenty miles above the river's mouth, will be 
five miles wide in places and nearly two hundred miles 
long, or about the length of Lake Ontario. 

On these lakes river boats with their low freeboards are 
subject to storms comparable to those on the veritable 
Great Lakes which none of the boats would dare venture 
upon. Still worse, if they were caught in a gale or sprang 
a leak, they would have no place to go. The moment they 
left the old river channel and started toward a distant 
shore (as Ohio River boats run for the near-by willows) 


they would go aground on the bottom lands that lie under 
the so-called lake, or they would stove in their hulls on 
concealed stumps and snags. 

In the matter of developing power this public enterprise 
has been successful in a large way. Which brings me back 
to the mouth of the Tennessee. The Gilbertsville Dam is 
located on a weak place in the earth's crust near the scene 
of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811. If another major 
tremor should come and the dam go (as it would, for it is 
built partly on piles), and if nearly two hundred miles of 
pent-up water, some seventy feet high at the dam's breast 
and averaging two miles wide, should be loosed, there 
would be a parade of power unrestrained which the de- 
scendants of survivors, on the lower Ohio and the Missis- 
sippi, would talk about for all the ages to come if there 
were any survivors to beget descendants. 

I would rather go down the Ohio more pleasantly than 
that, and so I conclude this chapter and turn into the 
Mississippi as traveler in fancy on the low-water trip of a 
theatrical company back in 1839. There was only sixteen 
inches in the channel at Rockport; Messrs. Ludlow and 
Smith, theatrical men of the West and South, had a com- 
pany of sixty players at Louisville; winter was approach- 
ing, and they wanted to get down to New Orleans, open 
the St. Charles Theatre there, and go on to Mobile. So 
they chartered the Daisy, a low-water packet a hundred 
feet long, which could navigate a sixteen-inch channel 
without rubbing the bottom. In the cabin were stowed the 
officers of the boat and the ladies of the company, and 
there everybody dined. 

The captain took two small fiatboats sixteen feet wide 
and sixty feet long, and roofed them and fitted them up 
with berths on each side of a wide passageway, which was 


used as a sitting room. Here the gentlemen of the com- 
pany and a number of other passengers slept. Since the 
ladies, the bar, and the dining room were all on the little 
packet, that is where, at first, the men spent their waking 
hours. Sometimes they had to be herded back to the flat- 
boats, and the ladies with them, to enable the steamboat 
to get over a sand bar. At night, when the boat never ran, 
people were at liberty to rove over the squadron or go 
ashore. By degrees card games were started in the flatboats, 
sociability developed, the packet's cabin was deserted, at 
night, and the men who wanted to sleep were out of luck. 
At Cairo, which was reached in ten days, the packet de- 
livered the light-hearted theater folk to the steamboat 
Mediator, which took them down to New Orleans. Thither, 
ninety-nine years afterward, I shall follow them. 



WHEN I looked out of my 

stateroom window in the morning, I saw a great river roll- 
ing along under a sullen sky. On either side, the flat shores 
were wooded clear to the water's edge. Behind them at 
some distance I caught glimpses of gray-green ramparts 
where cattle were feeding. A head wind whistled past the 
boat, snapping the flags at stem and stern. Above was the 
laboring breath of the smokestacks, astern the thunder of 
paddlewheels. Cairo, at the Ohio's mouth, was already 
miles away, Cincinnati two days behind. We were on the 
Mississippi, well started on a cruise of three thousand 

Our packet was the Gordon C. Greene. It is two hun- 
dred and fifty feet long and forty-four wide. When we left 
port it carried five hundred tons of coal and was drawing 
seven feet of water. There was less coal aboard when we 
entered the Mississippi, and of course we rode higher. On 
the swelling river we swept along at fifteen miles an hour, 
something more than thirty feet of water under us enough 
to carry any freighter that sails the Seven Seas, We did bet- 
ter than fifteen miles after we passed the mouth of the 
Arkansas, which was in flood, bearing drift from Okla- 
homa, perhaps from Colorado. 

Every stateroom was occupied, which meant that there 
were about ninescore of us, in addition to the crew and 
orchestra. Most of the passengers had rooms off the main 
cabin, which was also the dining room and at night a place 
of assembly for music and dancing. Above this, on the 



hurricane deck, was the texas, theoretically for officers' 
quarters but long since appropriated by passengers. Its 
name may confuse the same people who naturally assume 
that a stateroom is, or purports to be, an apartment of 
state, instead of just a cubicle named after some state of 
the Union, as was the old custom. The texas on the deck 
above is, like the Lone Star State, bigger than the rest, 
and also is set apart, as the star of Texas used to be on the 

There I shared with a native Tennessean a good state- 
roomrunning water, electric lights, and a shower bath 
just across the hall. I must add a term to river nomencla- 
ture. Though it may never have happened before, the texas 
of our boat had two stories, and our own room was on 
what was called the sky deck. In a word, it was Upper 
Texas, and therefore Llano Estacado, as every student of a 
school geography will understand. 

Our fellow passengers on these three decks were drawn 
from ten states. Many of them were water-wise, and knew 
their Mark Twain and the river sagas. A New York banker 
raided the second-hand bookshops in search of Americana 
at every town where we tied up. Other passengers were an 
army major, an Ohio railroad executive, an Indiana judge, 
a Great Lakes skipper, a young organist who threw in good 
imitations of a steamboat whistle as part of the Sunday 
recessional, and a Kentucky dirt farmer who stops his mule 
in the middle of the furrow when he hears a boat whistle 
on the river. "We both listen," he told me. Also, there 
were men and women jaded from overwork, a group of 
attractive girls, an adequate contingent of young men, and 
a number of married women on vacation from their hus- 

Captain Tom Greene was the master. The cruise con- 
ductor was Captain Donald T. Wright, editor of the Water- 


ways Journal of St. Louis, who went along more or less for 
a lark there had been no Mardi Gras boat since 1930 but 
who kept telling us the things we all wanted to know. He 
qualified for the traditional busman's vacation by bringing 
out a daily stern-wheel newspaper called Steamboat Whis- 
perings, appropriately printed on green sheets, packed with 
river lore, and diversified with old river poems, many of 
them written by river captains and yet reading better than 
you might think. 

A remarkable woman was aboard. This was Mary Greene, 
widow of the man from whom the boat was named, mother 
of its master, custodian of a family tradition which has run 
with the river almost since the beginning of steamboating. 
She is the only licensed boat master and river pilot among 
her sex, nor are these courtesy titles. Captain Mary, a 
country storekeeper's daughter, has steered a steamboat 
through a cyclone, weathered an explosion of nitroglycerin, 
and borne a child while her craft was locked in an ice 
gorge. She brought up her two stalwart sons to be river 
captains. She likes to embroider, and she still likes to dance 
and I can testify that she knows how. 

When we went out of the Beautiful River, for so the 
French named the Ohio, we forsook Beauty for Power. The 
Mississippi calls for large words, such as befit its estate as 
the clearing-house of a continent. Fortunately, it supplies 
most of them, and some of the rest may be borrowed-for 
example: the grandiose statement that it is equal to three 
Ganges rivers, nine Rhones, twenty-seven Seines, and eighty 
Tibers. It flowed from Freedom to Slavery, and still, as 
you fancy, the songs of bondmen-unlike those of Baby- 
lon, they could sing the Lord's songs in a strange land- 
awake ghostly echoes upon it. In the Civil War, fratricidal 


battles were fought on its heights and between fleets of 
ironclads on the waters below. 

The four words with American backgrounds which I 
have set down in capitals are weighted with drama. Other 
and perhaps lighter terms the river has, and in retrospect 
these may be larger. The Mississippi is the River of Levees, 
which begin a little below Cape Girardeau and run down 
beyond New Orleans; back from shore and out of sight in 
the woods for most of the distance, they emerge at Baton 
Rouge and from there on are the river's walls. The Missis- 
sippi is the River of Caving Banks; before revetment work 
was broadened a generation ago, a survey showed that from 
Cairo to the mouth of Red, caving went on at low water 
or high in all but five miles of the seven hundred and fifty- 
four. The Mississippi is the River of Vanishing Towns; 
scarcely a decade passes but some community which it is 
battering gives up and moves back for miles and the 
waters move in. The Mississippi is the River of Continental 
Floods, where the rainfall of a million and a quarter square 
miles seeks the sea through a single ditch. 

It has its own grand divisions. Outstanding are the Chick- 
asaw Bluffs, a term little heard nowadays but understood 
of every old navigator. They are on the left bank. Once 
they were rocky islands or headlands standing out of a 
shallow, prehistoric sea which is now the Lower Mississippi 
Valley. On them are all the great river towns Memphis, 
Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge all except New 
Orleans, which is not quite level with the river. On them 
in the Civil War stood formidable Confederate fortifica- 
tions. Perhaps it was fitting that the Chickasaws, from 
whom they were named and in whose ancient territory 
they were erected, should have joined the Confederacy 
after removal to Oklahoma, and as the Chickasaw Nation 
made what trouble they could for the North. 


Between Cairo and Red River is the Islanded Lower 
Mississippi perhaps a hundred and fifty islands from two 
to four miles long, many of them connected with the main- 
land by wing-dams behind which the chutes have silted 
up so that only in low water is their island quality dis- 
closed. From Red River down to the Gulf, a little more 
than three hundred miles, is what might be called the Un- 
fettered River: there are only three islands. From Mem- 
phis to Red River is the Land of Horseshoe Lakes thirty 
crescent-shaped bodies of water, each from five to ten miles 
long, all former channels of the river and roughly parallel- 
ing its course over a stretch of more than five hundred 
miles. In the wild marshlands at the Mississippi's mouth 
are the passes Pass a'Loutre, Southwest Pass, and South 
Pass walled with jetties through which the river has scoured 
its own outlets so that deep-draught ocean vessels can ascend 
it. Once these mouths were choked with mud-coated logs 
which piled up on each other in a semblance of rocky 
ramparts that deceived early settlers; the Spaniards called 
them Palisados and held them in superstitious terror. 

Because ships can, and do, ascend it, all of the Mississippi 
below Baton Rouge is called the Coast. It has a thirty-foot 
channel; above to Cairo only a nine-foot channel is assured, 
and not always that. In this area there are overlapping 
designations, all of which evoke the imagination* One of 
them is the Bends, which is any part of the river as far up 
as Vicksburg; the name came in when a New Orleans 
steamboat line announced regular runs "to Vicksburg and 
The Bends," which meant merely that it ran way boats 
that stopped at the small towns. Almost it seemed that the 
Mississippi sought to vie with West Africa, which has a 
Gold Coast, an Ivory Coast, a Pepper Coast, and a Slave 

While no Slave Coast was set down on old maps of the 


Big River, it was there, and its memorial is the somber 
phrase "sold down river." There is a Sugar Coast, from 
New Orleans to Vicksburg, and rich are its implications. 
There is also the German Coast. It begins twenty miles 
above New Orleans and extends upstream for forty miles. 
Seven hundred families of Alsatian immigrants, lured to 
the Louisiana country by tales of silver to be had there and 
kindly natives who would hand it to them, poured into 
John Law's Grand Duchy of Arkansas near the mouth of 
the Arkansas in the early eighteenth century. When the 
Mississippi Bubble collapsed they started back, but at New 
Orleans were persuaded to stay and try again. They inter- 
married with Acadians, and their descendants live in St. 
Charles Parish. They grow sugar, rice, oranges, figs, and 
grapes. That the Alsatians did well to stay is declared by 
still another geographical name. The German Coast is 
sometimes called the Golden Coast. 

A river, the shores of which bore such names intriguing 
or haunting was the one place to stage the gaudiest, the 
most inspiriting chapter in the American story. This was 
the Steamboat Age, of which our boat was one of very few 
survivals. Quietly we went over waters that in other gen- 
erations were alive with panting, bellowing, racing side- 
wheelers. They had oil paintings on wheelhouses and on 
stateroom doors. The cabins had glittering chandeliers, 
carved stanchions, inlay panels, silken hangings, silver 
water-coolers. There was fantastic fretwork on the pilot- 
houses and decks, and gilding everywhere. In the ornate 
barrooms the best liquors of America and the choicest 
wines of Europe were to be had. At the tables were all 
kinds of meat and fish and fruits, prepared and served by 
skillful Negro cooks. Before the bar and at the tables, or 
perhaps on deck betting on a race with another packet, con- 


gregated pleasure-seeking passengers. Usually there were 
professional gamblers among them, for it was tradition 
that their presence on a boat brought it luck as certainly 
it brought luck to themselves. Down below were bales of 
cotton, hogsheads of molasses, casks of sugar, bags of rice, 
and nearly everything else that could be bought and sold. 

Steamboats began running as soon as the Fulton-Roose- 
velt-Livingston monopoly of Southern waters was broken 
by John Marshall, and their misfit sea vessels which could 
not navigate shallow waters nor make much headway up- 
streamwere superseded by true river packets. Five thou- 
sand steamboats, most of them made along the Ohio, plied 
the rivers of the country. Sooner or later everyone of them 
found itself on the Father of Waters. The Mississippi had 
fifty-seven navigable affluents. Boats went out of it into all 
of them, carrying trappers, traders, tribute-bearers, settlers, 
gold seekers, and troops, and bringing back furs, hides, 
gold dust, as well as Indian delegations and broken white 
adventurers, In a sense it was the Broadway of the conti- 
nent, a promenade from which Americans turned off at 
length into bystreets the tributaries upon or along which 
they moved to the conquest of the high plains, the moun- 
tains, and the Pacific Coast. 

Though towboats have taken up the task of the packets, 
and barge-line traffic multiplies on the Mississippi, wistful 
it is to think of those yesterdays. What I felt was put into 
words in these lines by a Cincinnati writer, which I found 
reprinted in the boat's newspaper: 

Packet panting up a moonlit stream, 
Gangplank yearning for a magic shore; 

Captain strolling in a land of dream, 
Banjo music through a galley door. 

Steamboats similar to those which carried the planters of pre-Civil War 
New Orleans still pass beneath the bluffs at Natchez. To the Mississippi I 
owed much of its prosperity when from 1817 to 1861 it was a great cotton 

Two of America's greatest waterways die Mississippi and the 
Missouri add to the beauty of the region surrounding St. Louis. 
Along these two rivers has moved the freight which has made 
St. Louis one of America's great commercial centers for over a 
hundred years. 

This view from a packet shows typical Ohio River scenery with hard workin 
sternwheeler pushing barges in the distance. 

Cincinnati's rapid growth began with the opening of steam navigation on the Ohic 
in 1816 and the opening of the railroad in 1845. The swiftly developing manufac 
turing city of the eighties is shown in this characteristic engraving of the period 

The old-time excursion boats like the Capitol, here tied up to the Cairo, Illinoii 
levee, still do a big business taking passengers up and down the river. 

A dike system under construction at Dallas Bend on the Missouri 


One month later. Note the active cutting of the river bank on the 
right which has already been retarded by dike construction. 

Three years later. Both accretion and the natural growth of young 
willows have aided in building up the fill behind the dikes. 

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53 ' 2 




Perhaps the sentiment was shared by all, for we were 
moving through the past in a boat that would have seemed 
no stranger there. Save for the use of coal instead of billets 
taken on daily at "wooding-up" places, running water in- 
stead of a pitcher and basin, and electric lights instead of 
whale-oil lamps, our packet was quite like those of a full 
century ago, its lines having the same graceful dip and 
sheersomewhat like those of a Conestoga wagon so that 
when we danced in the long cabin we went downhill and 
then up again. 

The rhythm of the day was set by the three meals, good 
meals, served at small tables in the main cabin, where danc- 
ing was held every night. Betweenwhiles, people chatted 
on the glassed-in forward decks, indulged in bridge, poker, 
and seven-up, bet on the marine horse races, joined in 
bingo, paraded the hurricane deck, played shuffleboard, 
read novels, scanned the ship's daily newspaper, hailed 
other boats, watched the banks drift past, appraised the 
sudden southern sunsets, and went ashore whenever the 
gangplank was lowered, no matter at what unearthly hour. 

We saw New Madrid on the Missouri bank, center of 
the 181 1 earthquake, when the shattered town was dropped 
eight feet, the well-named Reelf oot Lake suddenly appeared 
on the Tennessee side, the river according to report re- 
versed its course and flowed up hill for a while, the cattle 
rushed into homes for protection, and "the winged tribes," 
says Cramer, "came hovering down, lighting on people's 
heads/' We saw Memphis (more on the mouth of Wolf 
River than on the Mississippi) and its famous Beale Ave- 
nue, habitat of voodoo doctors, source of various Blues 
ditties. Residents of Helena came aboard, and their cars 
sped us through the Arkansas town. We were welcomed at 
the Mississippi town of Greenville, once on the river but 


now, as the result of cut-offs, on Lake Ferguson, which 
occupies the old bed. We saw state guards patrolling the 
bank at Angola, site of the Louisiana state penitentiary. 
Over the levee we saw the roofs of Carville, the only leper 
colony in the country, and learned that most of its four 
hundred inmates will not die, when die they do, from this 
ancient curse. We visited glamorous cities and glimpsed 
other rivers old in story of all of which more later. 

These, however, were but incidental details in a primi- 
tive and vital canvas. We were going through a country 
which abounded in wild life. Gulls brayed and whinnied 
about us. Ducks flew up, usually in small flocks, their 
bodies like crosses crudely patterned by paleolithic man. 
In flight a regimented fowl, they were easier to bring down 
had anybody cared to do so than the highly individual- 
istic crow, irregular in flight, wary, hard to hit. At intervals 
a great blue heron, its stilted legs sticking out straight be- 
hind, flew alongshore. I saw an eagle flapping through an 
Arkansas woodland. Far overhead floated buzzards, settling 
down once in numbers to some gruesome feast. From in- 
undated thickets came frog choruses, the joyous whistle of 
cardinals, the pipes of bobolinks which early folk called 
French blackbirds, and the lovely music of mocking birds 
singing amid mistletoe. When we entered the Deep South, 
large, golden-winged butterflies came board, and dauber 
wasps, and yellowjackets. 

The Mississippi is the wildest, strangest thing I ever saw. 
We stopped at the towns noted; here and there beyond the 
looming levees we saw the roofs of hamlets, and now and 
then the columned porticoes of a home in the classic man- 
ner. But for the most part the shores were untenanted, 
wooded everywhere aloof almost as when De Soto first 
saw them four centuries ago. As always, the river was at its 
casual, ruthless work, sending tribute by long bayous back 


into the forests, tumbling the banks, uprooting tall trees, 
pondering new courses that would turn the old bends into 
ox-bow lakes swarming with catfish. 

Its perpetual duel with the people, whose troops are 
government engineers, is the most dramatic thing on this 
continent. Scarcely can it be resisted, though here and 
there it can be outwitted and made unknowingly to do 
men's bidding. Sometimes the thought came to me that it 
would go on and on, taking away land, as once it had be- 
stowed it, until all between Ozarks and Alleghenies would 
again be sea. 

This, however, did not greatly concern me at the time, 
for winter was somewhere up north and we were moving 
into summer. 



ON THE Mississippi, as on 

the Ohio, I was looking out for tributaries while we kept 
on toward New Orleans. The first one I took note of was 
White River. Descending the Mississippi in 1807, Fqrtescue 
Cumings passed its mouth which, he says, "appears more 
inconsiderable than it actually is," a willow plantation 
masking the exit. Seven miles farther down he met a small 
barge in which seven men were rowing upstream. When 
he hailed them, they said they were coming from Arkansas 
and were bound for Arkansas, and that puzzled him. 

I learned how this could be while descending the Missis- 
sippi myself. First we passed the mouth of the White and 
then, scarcely half an hour afterward, the mouth of the 
Arkansas. The two rivers use each other somewhat in reach- 
ing a common destination. Three miles up the White, a 
natural cut-off connects it with the Arkansas. When there 
is flood water on either, the surplus follows the cut-off and 
goes down the other. Those bargemen had descended the 
Arkansas and were returning by way of the Mississippi, the 
White, and the cut-off, because there was a strong current 
in one river, a light one in the other. 

In early narratives the water link between them is vari- 
ously called a pass, a bayou, or a canal. It is nine miles long 
and quite deep. Travelers coming down the Mississippi 
and going up the Arkansas used this pass and first entered 
the latter thirty miles above its mouth. A century ago the 
mouth of White had an evil name. At the mouths of West- 
ern rivers one of three institutions might be looked for 



a trading post, a fort, or a pirate rendezvous. Murrel's band 
and others of their kidney infested the region where the 
White River's journey ends. One old writer credits the 
spot with having harbored a larger number of outlaws 
than any other point on the Mississippi. On the lower 
reaches of the two rivers dwelt the Quapaws and Osages, 
amid what the naturalist Nuttall calls "horrible thickets" 
of cottonwoods, sycamores, poplars, oaks, red gums, nut 
trees, persimmon trees, and papaws. In the autumnal sea- 
son their country was filled with smoke from forest fires 
which they lighted themselves to widen the range for game. 
Buffalo herds roved here, panthers were in the thickets, 
bear in canebrakes of the bottom lands. The principal food 
of the savages was bison meat dried over a slow fire; they 
made a soup also with this as a base and with sweet corn 
dried in the milk as an agreeable ingredient. Nuttall likens 
them to "the tribes of Tartary," a favorite figure among 
travelers of his time. 

It was noted of the Osages that they plucked all the hair 
from their bodies; that they practiced a curious form of 
polygamy under which a man had right to espouse his 
wife's sisters or bestow them on others; and that they 
treated other tribesmen as criminals if found on the Osage 
war paths, these being designated as such by beacons, 
painted posts, and inscribed hieroglyphics. 

The Quapaws had an interesting name and origin. As 
the story goes, when the Sioux tribes who lived along the 
Ohio undertook a westward migration, their columns parted 
at its mouth. Those who went down the Mississippi were 
called the Quapaws or "Down-River People"; the rest who 
went up were called Omahas, the "Up-River People," or 
"those going against the current." Now the Osages and 
Quapaws live in Oklahoma, the Omahas in Nebraska. 

Despite the phrase of Cumings, the White is a major 


stream. One standard atlas guesses its length as nine hun- 
dred miles, and some travelers have placed this at above a 
thousand; the length of American rivers and of their navi- 
gable stretches are two matters on which the books are 
scarcely to be trusted. Rising in the Ozarks, the White 
travels southeast for four hundred and fifty miles to reach 
the Mississippi. Light steamboats have ascended it as far 
as Batesville, nearly four hundred miles. They were on it 
as early as 1831, when the Cincinnati-built W overly, com- 
manded by Captain Philip Pennywit, made the pioneer 
trip to Batesville. Commerce on the river is more active 
than on the larger Arkansas. 

At Vicksburg, two hundred miles below the confluence 
of the White River and the Mississippi, the Yazoo comes in 
from the east. Recalling that the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence was signed on July 4, 1776, and that, on another 
July Fourth, Vicksburg surrendered to Grant, there came 
a time when the Mississippi decided to celebrate both 
events upon the same day and in a big way. There was only 
one possible day to do so, and that was July 4, 1876; only 
one possible place, which of course was Vicksburg and 
only one possible way. In a single night the Father of 
Waters straightened out with a thunderous sound, cut 
through the ox-bow by virtue of which Vicksburg was upon 
it, and left the city miles inland. The cut-off created a lake 
called Centennial Lake, an island called Centennial Island. 
The island is in Louisiana, which is a wet state, while its 
neighbor across the river is dry. So there are vivacious re- 
sorts on the island and an active ferry service from the city. 

That is how I am able to claim that on my New Orleans 
journey I traveled the Yazoo for a little while. Its course 
has been diverted so that it flows by Vicksburg in reaching 
the Mississippi, instead of entering the river as before a 


few miles upstream. You may call the new waterway a 
canal, or the Yazoo itself; anyway it is Yazoo water. Thus 
the River of Death, which is the meaning of its perhaps 
uncouth Indian name, has become a sort of river of life to 
the ancient Mississippi stronghold. 

The Yazoo is a curious river in a sense a detour from 
the country's greatest waterway. In a small boat you can 
come out of the Mississippi, cross over to the sources of 
the Yazoo, follow it to its mouth, and there re-enter the 
Mississippi. At other places, bayous from the latter feed its 
lesser consort. This, however, is a considerable stream, 
roughly paralleling the Mississippi along most of the west- 
ern boundary of the state. It is one river with three names 
the Yallobusha, Tallahatchie, and Coldwater and their 
combined length is something over five hundred miles. 
For most of that distance it is a deep, navigable waterway, 
with an assured channel of four feet or more, negotiable 
for light-draught steamboats the year around. In 1939 a 
dredge boat, operating over only ten miles, removed twenty 
snags, two hundred leaning trees, and twenty thousand 
willows. An official report showed an average annual com- 
merce over a six-year period of two hundred and thirty- 
eight thousand tons mainly of barged logs, with some 
gravel, hay, and provisions. 

In descending the Mississippi in 1807, Cumings also had 
a glimpse of the mouth of Yazoo, which he reported was 
two hundred and fifty yards wide. An unnamed flatboat 
traveler, selling apples and cider, came down from Pitts- 
burgh in 1799. He speaks of Choctaws "decorated with 
beads, broaches, deer-tails and buffaloe horns" on the banks 
of the Yazoo, and "at a distance the Walnut hills upon 
which is a garrison," and that was Vicksburg. Nuttall, also 
passing by, records in 1819 that there were two small tribes 
on the Yazoo, one called the Red Crayfish, th ir other, the 


Nation of the Dog, both branches of the Chickasaws, and 
neither of these used the letter "r" in their speech. 

When the Steamboat Age came along, side-wheelers and 
stern-wheelers plied this river. Gould tells of the Sallie 
Robinson which ran on the Yazoo in the 1850*8, carrying 
two thousand bales of cotton on each trip. It was stolen 
outright by a sharper who sold it for twenty thousand dol- 
lars, pocketed the proceeds, gave a clear title, and went 
West. When the Civil War broke out and New Orleans 
yielded to Farragut, Confederate packets quit the Missis- 
sippi and sought refuge in the Yazoo, in Red River, and 
in the bayous. All boats that came to the Yazoo were de- 
stroyed, a few by the North, the rest by the South or by 
their own masters, so that they should not fall into North- 
ern hands. There and elsewhere one list shows sixty-three 
boats thus destroyed, and eight, including a steamship, 
converted into Confederate gunboats. 

Because the Yazoo ran behind the Vicksburg hills, it 
figured in three major thrusts in 1862-1863 to capture the 
South's greatest fortress. On the Mississippi frontage Vicks- 
burg was impregnable, sitting too hightwo hundred feet 
in air for the Federal gunboats to hit effectively, while its 
own plunging fire could shatter them. So Sherman came 
down the Mississippi and went up the Yazoo for thirteen 
miles, and landing his command at Chickasaw Bayou un- 
dertook a surprise attack on the bluffs north of Vicksburg. 
The Confederates, however, were ready. He suffered a 
bloody repulse and withdrew from the swampy lowlands 
lest a rise in the river drown his whole force. 

One month later another and stranger attempt was made 
to get behind Vicksburg by way of the Yazoo. The Cold- 
water section of the latter was connected with the Missis- 
sippi by a winding bayou, ten miles long, eighty feet wide, 
and thirty deep, which was called the Yazoo Pass. Once the 


common steamboat route between Vicksburg and Mem- 
phis, the pass had long been closed by a levee. The Fed- 
erals blew this up and sent in an expedition in steam- 
boats which was to follow the pass and the Coldwater, the 
Tallahatchie, and Yazoo rivers, to a point where it could 
land in the rear of Haines Bluff, a fortified bastion on the 
Yazoo guarding the northern approaches to Vicksburg. The 
course over these winding streams was seven hundred miles 
long. John Fiske calls it "perhaps the most gigantic flank- 
ing movement ever attempted in military history." 

Leaving the Mississippi and entering a dense forest of 
pecan trees, oaks, and sycamores, the steamboats encoun- 
tered barricades which had been made by felling trees 
across the pass in one case eighty fallen trees interlaced 
in a stream-spanning abatis more than a mile long. The 
invading force, forty-five hundred strong under General 
Ross, chopped off the limbs, hauled the trunks clear of 
the bayou, and in a fortnight were on the Tallahatchie, 
having traveled two hundred and fifty miles through the 
wilderness without loss of a man. But farther along it 
found a new Confederate earthwork with big guns dom- 
inating a bend of the Yazoo, tried it out in a cannonade- 
in which the boats suffered more damage than they in- 
flictedand groped its way back to the Mississippi. 

The third project, almost coincident with the second, to 
penetrate the forest labyrinth and get behind Haines Bluff 
on the Yazoo, sought to employ its tributary, the Big Sun- 
flower River, and a network of creeks and bayous. Admiral 
Porter went ahead with five ironclads and four mortar 
boats, Sherman following with a division in small steam- 
boats. The ironclads scraped against the cypresses and wil- 
lows on both sides of the creek, pushed under overhanging 
vines and barricades, and nosed their way through the 
bushes. They nearly fell into a trap, for the Confederates 


compelled Negroes to chop down trees in front of the 
boats and behind them. Sherman, thirty miles in the rear, 
marched to the rescue at night, his men lighting their path 
through the canebrake with candles. Finding the entrance 
to Rolling Fork and clear navigation blocked by a strong 
column, the expedition withdrew. There was no room for 
the ironclads to turn around, so they backed and bumped 
out of the creek and at length reached the Mississippi, after 
an eleven-day excursion into futility. 

Both the White River and the Yazoo show a deficient 
property sense in their propensity to appropriate the trans- 
portation facilities of other streams. At ordinary stages this 
might be called mere communism; in times of flood it may 
be nothing less than anarchy. Such indeed are the ways of 
rivers in the Lower Mississippi Valley, including the Father 
of Waters himself. A third impeachment may be brought 
against all of them a quality akin to vagrancy. On the 
seashore I have watched hermit crabs scuttling around hobo 
fashion under shells that had belonged to other crustaceans. 
In like manner there are Southern rivers that tell each 
other to move over; that tie up with the first unused water- 
course they come to; that trade beds, or take turns occupy- 
ing the same one. The main task of army engineers through- 
out a region of some two hundred thousand square miles 
may be likened to that of the keeper of a Bowery lodging- 
house who must see that his tenants do not pilfer from 
their fellows, nor dispossess them. 

Wherefore I link with the White River and the Yazoo, 
of both of which I had a glimpse, a third waterway which 
I did not see at all in my Mardi Gras journey but of which 
I did see something on a previous trip to New Orleans. 
This is Bayou Teche. It is in possession of nearly two hun- 
dred miles of channel through which Red River once 
reached the Gulf. 


A bayou is an interesting thing. It is quite loosely de- 
fined in the dictionaries as a sluggish inlet or outlet from 
a lake or bay. Two derivations are assigned for the term 
itself: one connects it with the Choctaw bdyuk, and the 
other holds it to be a corruption of boyau, the French 
word for intestine. The latter, and more likely, shows the 
same law of likeness as the crude Anglo-Saxon word gut 
which means, among other things, a contracted strait be- 
tween two bodies of water; for a singularly crude illustra- 
tion, a certain inlet of Chesapeake Bay is called Old 
Woman's Gut. 

Perhaps it is not fair to introduce Bayou Teche with a 
dissertation on hobos and intestines, for it is a beautiful 
waterway, moving through a rich countryside and carry- 
ing the memory of the most romantic of American love 
stories. Purple hyacinths cover much of its surface, on its 
banks are live oaks heavy with Spanish moss, and back of 
them are sugar plantations, rice swamps, cotton fields, pecan 
groves, and ranks of tabasco pepper plants. This is the 
Acadian country. 

To reach it, I had taken a noon train from New Orleans 
and ridden west across half a dozen Louisiana parishes. It 
was a few weeks before America's entry into the First 
World War. On the train I talked with a sugar planter, 
spade-bearded, of middle years, with courtly manner and 
a slight French accent. My questions about the country 
interested him. 

"Where, sir, do you come from?" he inquired. 

"About a thousand miles from here." 

"And why are you making this trip, if I may ask?" 

"I want to see what the Acadians look like. I have read 
about them in Longfellow's poems." 

"And you have come a thousand miles just to see them?" 

"That's right," I replied. 


The planter smiled. 

"I have a thousand men in my sugar mill," he said. 
"They are all Acadians, as I am. My people will be amuse* 
when I tell them. Good-bye, sir, I am getting off here." 

Not until the last hours of my brief excursion into Louisi- 
ana's Acadia did it occur to me that the conversation may 
have been significant, and that he passed the word along. 
I shall never know. All I do know is that everybody whom 
I met in two parishes seemed curious about my quest and 
kinder than is the wont of men toward a stranger. That, 
however, may be just the Acadian way. 

I left the train at New Iberia and, as my companion had 
suggested, went to its city hall. It almost seemed that I was 
expected. A young official took me on a short tour of the 
town, which ended at the law office of one of its leading 
men. On the way thither he apologized for his accent. "Un- 
less I watch myself," he confided, "I say 'dese' and 'dose' 
instead of 'these* and 'those/ As a graduate of Tulane I 
really know better." New Iberia, he said, was named and 
founded by Spanish colonists from Florida who cut a way 
now called the Old Spanish Trail through Louisiana to 
the San Antonio posts. This was about one hundred and 
seventy years ago. The town is on Bayou Teche. The parish 
is on the Gulf, whence in quantities its oysters, shrimps, 
and crabs reach the country's markets. 

The leading citizen to whom I was conducted was a 
judge of good liquor. He led me to a place of refreshment 
where we had a mint julep a courtesy doubly welcome 
because my journey southward had been through a succes- 
sion of dry states. Other citizens told me that the heart of 
the Acadian Country was at St. Martinville in the parish 
just north of Iberia. A horse and buggy and a Negro boy 
were placed at my disposal. 
A ten-mile drive over roads heavy with February mud 


brought me thither. After a dinner in which bayou oysters 
were a savory item, I met a dozen representative men of 
the town whom the landlord of the hotel had invited in. 
We sat in the lobby while I questioned them about crab- 
bing, trapping muskrats, and the legendary liking of alliga- 
tors for small Negro children. One Acadian obliged by 
telling what happened when a pig meets an alligator, his 
final statement a blend of American slang and colloquial 
French, "Monsieur peeg, bon soirl" 

I had brought a pocket copy of Evangeline and it lay on 
the table beside me. One of the villagers was looking it 
over. When he came to a certain page, he laughed, and 
handed the book to me. "Read that aloud, won't you?" he 
asked. It was the passage in which Basil, whilom black- 
smith of Nova Scotia and now prosperous herdsman of 
Louisiana, greets Evangeline and her party who are seek- 
ing his absentee son, the wandering and restless Gabriel. 
The lines were a hymn of contentment: 

"Welcome once more to a home, that is better 
perchance than the old one! 

Here no hungry winter congeals our blood like 
the rivers; 

Here no stony ground provokes the wrath of the 

Smoothly the ploughshare runs through the soil, 
as a keel through the water. 

All the year round the orange-groves are in blos- 
som; and grass grows 

More in a single night than a whole Canadian 

The assembled Acadians of St. Martinville greeted the 
passage with approving laughter, particularly the boastful 


claim for the grass of the Bayou Teche country, which they 
said was true enough. 

That night I slept in statemore or less in a massive 
four-poster. As a special ceremony, a small cup of black 
coffee was brought me in the morning by a Negro boy in 
plum-colored uniform, and this I drank in bed. Explor- 
ing the town in the forenoon, I saw old kitchens in the 
French style with their glowing batteries of copper uten- 
sils, exchanged vital statistics with a number of shop- 
keepers, many of whom had sired at least half a score of 
children, gazed long at the tranquil beauty of Bayou 
Teche, and when a towboat clanked past wished I could 
travel on it through the winding waterways of an amphib- 
ious land. Of course I saw the oak under which legend says 
Evangeline awaited the return of her errant lover, and the 
house where the latter, married to another woman, is said 
to have lived. 

Bearing the name of the saint from whom comes Martin- 
mas or Indian summer, the village has a serene atmosphere 
of Indian summer upon it. In the old days it was the vaca- 
tion resort of New Orleans artists, writers, and fashionable 
folk; sometimes a light opera company played there. The 
parish itself was settled by cadets of noble French and Span- 
ish families who had been appointed to office. An Acadian 
friend took me to call on one of its distinguished residents. 
From his father, a student under Longfellow at Harvard, 
the poet heard the tale of Evangeline. Her true name was 
Emmeline Labiche, her lover was Louis Arcenaux, and he 
married another. The disconsolate Emmeline, garlanded 
with hyacinths, wandered the banks of Bayou Teche as 
Ophelia by the willow-slanted brook, with "crowflowers, 
nettles, daisies and long purples" in her hair. So at least 
legend avers. Her grave is in the village churchyard. 
Longfellow changed the tale into one of a lifelong fidel- 


ity on the part of the man and the maid, and o her cease- 
less search for him unavailing until the very end, when 
she finds him a dying oldster in the Philadelphia alms- 
house; his last breath is spent in her arms. Was the poet's 
a change for the better? My answer is that for anything 
written in long hexameters this was the only possible ending. 
Anyway, the New England singer has put all the Great 
Valley in his debt. At the head of navigation his Hiawatha 
"heard the Falls of Minnehaha calling to him through the 
silence/' Of a genial product of the Mississippi's greatest 
tributary, Longfellow sings: 

For richest and best 

Is the wine of the West, 

That grows by the Beautiful River. . . . 

and that is merited tribute to the Catawba vintages of a 
Cincinnati yesterday. Of the bayou region of Louisiana, 
and its "maze of sluggish and devious waters" the poet 
writes with sincerity and understanding: of cypress arches, 
trailing mosses waving like banners on the walls of ancient 
cathedrals, moonlight on columns of cedar, the mocking- 
bird that shook from its throat a flood of delirious music, 
and wilder night sounds "the whoops of the crane and the 
roar of the grim alligator." Though Longfellow had not 
seen Bayou Teche, nobody else ever did this half so well. 
The happy laughter of St. Martinville's villagers when 
I read his lines to diem told me what I should have known 
long before that through the benignity of the years, the 
Acadian exile had come to seem rather a translation than 
a deportation. There have been accessions and intermin- 
glings of Spanish and of other French blood, and now the 
Acadians, a dominant people in a dozen Louisiana parishes, 
are said to be about three hundred thousand strong. Theirs 


is the nation's cane-sugar country. The postwar resent- 
ments of the Old South had but slight hold on them. In 
1920 they even sent a Republican to Congress. There have 
been a number of Acadian Governors of Louisiana and 
United States Senators. Still, when men of this strain cam- 
paign in their home parishes, it is in the rustic "Cajun" 



A YANKEE bayonetwas given 

to one o our passengers while the boat stopped at Vicks- 
burg on its way toward Mardi Gras. The Southern guide 
who took him through the national cemetery gave it to him 
after he happened to say that two Northern uncles, killed 
in the siege, were buried there. This made a hit with the 
guide, who went home to get the bayonet. It was fair in- 
ference that if the visitor had lost three uncles there or, 
better still, four the pleased native would have given him 
a Yankee rifle, or a sword. 

I cite the incident because it makes anew the point that, 
with the passage of years, a fratricidal war has become a 
theme for fraternal interchanges. So far as the river towns 
are concerned, only New Orleans seems to cherish any bit- 
ter memory, and that relates to one man; let it be granted 
that any city which knew Ben Butler as its military gover- 
nor would have a lot to forgive and forget. At Vicksburg 
the first of three significant towns where we made ex- 
tended stops going or coming our contacts with the popu- 
lation had a friendly lightheartedness which it is well to 
record, before the heavy things which once were done there 
are noted in retrospect. 

In taxicabs the boat passengers climbed the hill to the 
town, and with gracious Southern men and women went 
over the monumented and wildly rolling siege lines and 
through a great national cemetery. From a charming young 
matron with an inimitable accent who went with our 
group, I heard about Whistling Dick, the Confederate can- 



non whose projectiles sang as they flew; and how people 
lived in caves but got to know the time each day when 
overheated Yankee guns had to lay off to cool, and then 
they scampered home for a bath; and how the South could 
scarcely forgive Pemberton for surrendering to Grant on 
July 4, 1863: "He might jus' as well have surrendered the 
day before or after." 

Below the horizon of our Vicksburg visit was the fading 
memory of continent-shaking events. 

Farragut took New Orleans in 1862 with a fleet of ocean- 
going vessels. Above that city the country on both sides of 
the Mississippi, except in a few places, was a low-lying 
region of swamps and bayous where defendable Confed- 
erate forts could not be established. The exceptions were 
the bluffs at Columbus, Fort Pillow, Memphis, Vicksburg, 
Grand Gulf, and Port Hudson, all strongly held, all un- 
assailable by river fleets and to be taken only from the rear. 
By battles fought elsewhere at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, 
and Shiloh, on the Cumberland and Tennessee Grant 
brought about the fall of Columbus, Fort Pillow, and Mem- 
phis. By a battle at Port Gibson he brought about the 
evacuation of Grand Gulf, By capture of Vicksburg he 
compelled the surrender of Port Hudson a few days later, 
the Confederates yielding when the Vicksburg news came 
in. Then, as Lincoln put it, "the Father of Waters rolled 
unvexed to the sea." 

Taken together, this series of victories, usually won by 
engagements elsewherethe interrelation and cumulative 
significance of which few grasped until they were complete 
embodied probably the greatest strategy which the New 
World has seen. Until Vicksburg fell, and Port Hudson 
three hundred miles down the river followed it, the trans- 
Mississippi States of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas were 
connected with the rest of the Confederacy, and by way of 


Red River could send soldiers, all the food stuffs it needed, 
and imports from Europe which came up through Mexico. 
Federal fleets above and below the two great bastions could 
not safely enter and operate in the long stretch of river 
between them, and any Federal army that interposed could 
be starved out by the shutting off of its river-borne supplies 
from above or below. Grant's victories cut the Confederacy 
in twain, prevented reinforcements from its own West, 
halved its food supplies, and completed the blockade by 
sea on the east and south with a river blockade along its 
entire west. 

Perhaps no other commander in American history could 
have taken Vicksburg. For this task, Grant's blend of quali- 
ties was unique: persistence, resourcefulness, an incredible 
patience, shrewd appraisal of opposing generals, audacity, 
and at the last a masterful contempt for all accepted rules 
of strategy. Here also, he won by battles fought elsewhere. 
Meanwhile, he tried everything running the Confederate 
batteries with Farragut's and Porter's ironclads; going 
around Vicksburg out of range of its guns by thrice devel- 
oping navigable waterways in the bayous on each side of 
the river; blowing up levees, digging canals, assaulting in 

He won by keeping the opposing Confederate armies 
divided and confused as to his intentions, and defeating 
them in detail like Napoleon, always having more men 
than they at the point of collision. He beat them at Port 
Gibson, at Raymond, at Jackson, at Champion's Hill, at 
Big Black River, and then crowded them out of Haines 
Bluff, guardian of Vicksburg's northern approaches. To 
win this series of battles, all within eighteen days, he cut 
loose from his base at Grand Gulf, crossed over from the 
Mississippi's western bank, and with no supplies save what 
his men could carry in their knapsacks, he lived on the 


country too little bread, too many fried chickens! At 
the end, Pemberton, Confederate commander, driven from 
the field, was back in Vicksburg, unaware, until a message 
came from his more sagacious associate Johnston, that his 
capture was certain unless he abandoned that stronghold. 
But the road of escape was already closed. Part of Grant's 
command now swelled to seventy thousand kept John- 
ston at a distance. The siege was on. 

Under shelling from the ironclads in front and the army 
in the rear, the inhabitants were driven to live in caves 
hollowed in the bluffs. Vicksburg, still impregnable against 
direct assault, was starved out. Flour brought ten dollars 
a pound, people ate mule meat. On July 4th, 1863, Pem- 
berton gave it up, surrendering more men than any com- 
mander in modern warfare up to that time, more even as 
Fiske points out than yielded to Napoleon at Ulm in 
1805. The thirty-seven thousand who laid down their arms 
at Vicksburg, added to twelve thousand who had been cap- 
tured or put out of action in the five preceding battles, 
made a total just equal to the force with which Grant 
began the campaign. 

On the very day of Vicksburg's fall, the Confederates 
lost at Gettysburg. The rest of their gallant and vain story 
is a recessional. 

Romantic as is the story of Natchez where our packet 
stopped for most of a day, and beautiful beyond any pic- 
ture we had formed of it as is Natchez-on-the-Hill, its sin- 
gular title to remembrance is that an ancient and evil trail 
ran through it, to which it gave its name. The trail was 
beaten as soon as there were settlers in any number in the 
Old West. 

They took their produce mainly corn, whisky, hams, 
bacon, and peach brandy down the rivers in flatboats to 


New Orleans, the only available market. This was one-way 
traffic, for flatboats could not go upstream, nor of course 
could commodities. The large growers, merchants, and 
speculators sold what they had for gold, and rode back over 
a path along the left bank of the Mississippi, carrying the 
gold in belts or in their saddlebags. Below Natchez, some 
two hundred miles above the Creole capital, the path ran 
through territory which at first was Spanish, was fairly well 
settled and policed, and safe enough. It had no name. 
Above Natchez, which from 1793 on was American, it was 
called the Natchez Trace. This vague path amid canebrakes, 
cypress swamps, and the primeval forest, trended northeast 
through the Choctaw and Chickasaw country, through what 
afterward became the States of Mississippi and Tennessee 
to Nashville, perhaps five hundred miles. 

Along it singly, or with one or two companions, or in 
small parties, men rode northward, and each had on his 
person hundreds of dollars in gold, often a thousand dol- 
lars or more. What they carried, together with the loneli- 
ness of the path, set the stage for highway robbers. These 
were of a kind unknown since certain fearsome annals of 
the Middle Ages. I have read accounts of their exploits 
compiled from earlier and dubious chronicles which mixed 
up both geography and history and yet, like the paperbacks 
of the old-time literature of roguery, had a wide popular 
sale. Making all discounts, what is left is a disturbing phe- 
nomenon even when viewed from the perspective of a hun- 
dred years. 

There were werewolves on the Natchez Trace, human 
only in form and at intervals. The wilderness did to them 
what it had done to men before. Just a hint of this is in 
Roosevelt's Winning of the West, in a passage about white 
men who disappeared from the frontier settlements, joined 
Indian bands, and, smearing themselves with charcoal and 


vermilion, descended with their savage hosts on their own 
neighbors in an orgy of bloodshed and torture reappear- 
ing later as white citizens to condole with the survivors. 

Medieval tradition had it that sorcerers took on the form 
of wolves just before they vanished in the wood. Those who 
thought they had this power were madmen their disease is 
called lycanthropy. Reading the story of Big Harpe and 
Little Harpe, of Joseph Hare, Samuel Mason, John A. 
Murrel, and their immediate followers, one gets the pic- 
ture of intermittent madness. They were maniacs and 
openly avowed it, or betrayed it by their ravings when 
trapped and imprisoned. When unmasked they were treated 
in the settlement courts, or by improvised roadside tribu- 
nals, like wild beasts, which is what they were. 

The old English term "wolfs head" is in point. One of 
the robbers was beheaded and his grinning skull, affixed 
for years on a pole, gave a name to Harpe's Head, across 
the Ohio in Kentucky from Cave-in-Rock. This was a re- 
sort of river thieves and outlaws who, it is said, cast Big 
Harpe out from their wild confraternity because they felt 
he was not human. Little Harpe reappeared later on the 
Natchez Trace, or rather his head did, incased in a ball of 
blue clay to arrest putrefaction until the reward could be 
claimed. As for the others, they were put in the pillory, 
publicly whipped, branded, and jailed or, as in most cases, 
incontinently hanged by what might be called Courts of 

Their inhuman nature declared itself in their deeds. 
Garbed as Indians they robbed and murdered, libeling the 
peaceable Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to which they 
professed to belong. Usually they killed the men they 
robbed. What followed was lycanthropic. The body of the 
victim was disemboweled, stones, gravel, and sand were 
poured into the cavity, and the weighted carcass was sunk 


in the nearest stream or swamp. It is quite in the werewolf 
picture that on occasion the miscreants wore broadcloth 
on the Trace, mingled at intervals with the fashionable 
society of the river towns, purported at times to be liber- 
ators of slaves instead of the "nigger stealers" that they 
were and as such corresponded with Northern Abolition- 
ists. For a final touch, the robbers used to don the garb of 
Methodist preachers, travel with a Bible in hand, deliver 
rousing sermons, conduct exciting revivals in the woods, 
and, as opportunity provided, pass counterfeit money off 
on the worshipers. 

Murrel, chief outlaw figure on the Natchez Trace, 
dreamed of freeing and arming the blacks, assigning them 
white leaders from his gang followers, giving each Negro 
a captured white woman for his consort, and with his slave 
army ravaging the Lower Mississippi Valley. Christmas 
Day of 1835 was appointed for the uprising; the date was 
shifted to the ensuing Fourth of July; and on that date 
mobs rioted though without avail in the vicious little set- 
tlements that lay below the bluffs on which stood the chief 
river towns. 

The outlaws of the Trace were by-products of slow, one- 
way navigation and of unbalanced commercial exchanges. 
It was left to the gamblers, sporting women, and liquor 
vendors of New Orleans to restore the balance. Thither 
the outlaws carried the gold of their victims; after a short 
interval of uproarious but gilded living, the Creole city 
had it all again. Not the law nor the vigilantes ended the 
reign of violence on land and on water. When steamboats 
grew common, people who went down to New Orleans 
came back upon them, and the stuffs of Europe came back 
with them. Gold no longer rode horseback on the Natchez 


Natchez itself hasor had two faces, and knows the Mis- 
sissippi both as enemy and friend. Natchez-under-the-Hill 
is now Natchez under the river, only half a score of old 
brick, verandahed houses remaining of the wickedest little 
settlement of the Great Valley in the flatboat era. With 
gray, casual hand, the river wiped out the underworld's 
undertown, and the hectic habitations of thieves, harlots, 
bar-flies, and rowdies tumbled into its oblivious waters. 

There were such settlements also under the Chickasaw 
Bluffs at Vicksburg and Memphis, not so clearly recalled 
because they were perhaps a shade less flagrant, and be- 
cause the river did not deign to make itself their sexton; 
Father Time did them under. Flatboatmen were wont to 
lay up there, waiting for the high, swift water of the break- 
ing spring to take them onward. They had plenty of cour- 
age and they could work hard and that was about all. Of 
their recklessness and lawlessness, their ruffianly bearing 
and outrageous jocularities, a hundred books bear a testi- 
mony which need not be repeated here. In a word, they 
were primitive Children of the River, wildfowl such as 
running water always breeds. The mission of the shanty 
town under the bluffs was to pluck them. 

For the most part its denizens were the scum of human- 
ity, parasites all, who preyed on the weaknesses of the flat- 
boatmen, robbed them while entertaining them, and killed 
them when it was worth while and seemed to be safe. 
Sometimes these nether folk stormed the heights and car- 
ried riot through the orderly streets of towns above them 
which made a habit, and a merit, of ignoring their exist- 
ence. There were reprisals, citizens rounding up and 
roughhousing the intrusive strumpets; waging periodical 
wars on gambling, and lynching a handful or so of the pro- 
fessionals. Once the rowdies under the Vicksburg heights, 
and in Pinch-Gut below the brow of Memphis, joined with 


the river-fronters of Natchez-under-the-Hill in a concerted 
move to burn the towns above them. They had no leader 
and got nowhere, for Murrel, outlaw in chief who planned 
this thing, was in prison. 

The best account of Natchez-under-the-Hill is by Timo- 
thy Flint, who saw it in the iSao's. A thousand boats lay at 
the landing scows, bateaux, Kentucky broadhorns, barges, 
huge roofed flatboats, and rafts that had sheds upon them. 
The town itself was "full of boatmen, mulattoes, houses of 
ill fame and their wretched tenants, in short the refuse of 
the world." There were two long streets parallel with the 
river and numerous alleys that connected them. The build- 
ings that fronted on the streets were liquor shops, gam- 
bling houses, disorderly dance halls. From them came 
drunken shouts, the click of crooked dice, the thin tones 
of rickety pianos. From alley windows scantily garbed 
women of all colors and shades of color called and beck- 
oned. The jangle of doorbells as men came and went there 
made a sort of eager hymn to Venus. 

While Natchez-under-the-Hill, most of it, tumbled into 
the river in the big flood of 1840, Natchez-on-the-Hill, as 
I saw it, is very much as it was when Flint pictured it, 
though more than twice as populous, and more than a cen- 
tury older. He found it a town with broad streets, with "an 
appearance of comfort and opulence, a charming aspect of 
quietness and repose." Some of the planters were wealthy 
and these received accredited strangers "kindly." Their 
wealth came from the cotton fields; with bales of cotton 
during the shipment season the streets were "almost barri- 

Here, two hundred feet above the squalid remains of its 
profane consort through which gentlewomen passed veiled 
when they went to and from the steamboats Natchezon- 


the-Hill keeps alive the memories of the Old South. In- 
deed, it is the Old South, a thing which I had doubted pro- 
foundly until my own eyes confirmed it. Natchez is of 
Spanish origin, is older than New Orleans, and has been 
under six flags. Because it is high, healthful, and safe from 
the water, safer than most regions of lower levels from the 
periodic scourges of yellow fever, the cotton planters of the 
Mississippi Valley built luxurious homes here. Perhaps 
thirty of the finest of these are still standing, all bearing 
names, and some of them we were privileged to enter. 
They are in spacious grounds with carriageways lined with 
crepe myrtles, shadowed by palms and live oaks, by sweet- 
olive trees and lacquer-leaved magnolias. They are draped 
with Spanish moss, beautiful even in February with their 
blooming wistaria, azalea, japonica, Cape jasmine, white 
iris, and camellia, thrilling with mockingbird song. 

Box hedges framed the walks. One dwelling had a brick- 
walled formal garden in a dry bayou carpeted with pine 
needles and a blue-tiled courtyard with great blue-green 
porcelain jars. Over all was the heavy fragrance of the 
pride of China and of locust trees in blossom. 

Cotton was king indeed when the planters built those 
homes and endowed them with wide halls, high ceilings, 
flanking galleries, winding staircases, hardwood floors, im- 
ported furniture and tapestries, and ample slave quarters 
connecting by covered passages. One planter chartered a 
ship to bring over his great, gilt-framed mirrors and ma- 
hogany tables, sideboards and four-posters, and with them 
a party of skilled Italian woodworkers. These homes went 
nearly unscathed through the ravage of war, Natchez be- 
ing subjected only to what the Southern lady who showed 
us around called "one rather gentlemanly bombardment" 
from the river for which there had been some provo- 


"I can see Scarlett O'Hara descending that winding stair- 
case/' said a girl in our party, and thereby said all. What 
all of us saw were Georgian houses with fluted Doric col- 
umns; hospitable twin doorways with fanlights; hanging 
balconies of wrought iron; sculptured mantelpieces fash- 
ioned abroad of gray, rose, green, gold-flecked, black, or 
white marbles. There were banqueting tables set with crys- 
tal, and silver services made to order from Spanish silver 
dollars; tall candlesticks of Sheffield plate; carved Renais- 
sance cabinets; Aubusson carpets, china based upon a bird 
design by Audubon. In original pieces of furniture one 
could recognize the handiwork of Chippendale, Hepple- 
white, Duncan Phyffe, and Sheraton. 

Through a Natchez enterprise called the Garden Pil- 
grimage these homes have been preserved as showpieces of 
the South of Swords and Roses. We were weeks ahead of the 
annual pilgrimage, when open-air tableaux are given, and 
in the pictorial garb of the ante-bellum time the hostesses 
of these mansions receive visitors. As a gesture of courtesy 
to our own river pilgrimage several of these gracious women 
and their daughters arrayed themselves in crinoline, wore 
elaborately curled coiffures, and bedecked themselves with 
family heirlooms such as neck-chains, lockets, stomachers, 
and cameo brooches. One of the women, whose crinoline 
billowed over the sides of the tapestried armchair where 
she sat enthroned, and whose white-encased ankles were 
delightfully trim and somewhat in evidence, made so en- 
gaging a picture that as our party crossed the threshold on 
the way out I turned back and made a proposition. 

"Suppose," I said, "we sit for a while before that coal 
fire in the adjoining room, and talk things over." 

Her eyes lighted amusedly, and she seemed to assent. 

"That would be wonderful," she said, "no matter if you 
missed your boat!" 


"Why bring that up?" I rejoined. 

So for a space we fenced back and forth, each of us quite 
aware that both of us were fooling. I caught the boat all 
right, and went with it down to Baton Rouge. 

Going ashore at Baton Rouge was important to all of us, 
for then we set foot on the soil of Louisiana. It is not as 
other states. Instead of counties it has parishes. Its begin- 
nings were Latin rather than Anglo-Saxon or Dutch. French 
is still widely spoken and in at least three dialects: New 
Orleans French, which is more or less Parisian; Acadian 
French, which is a mellow, rustic tongue; and Gombo 
French, the still softer speech of Negroes whose forebears 
had Creole proprietors. The older and better architecture, 
however, is Spanish, for sometimes the province had such 
masters, and whatever their failings the vanished hidalgos 
knew how to rear stately and spacious buildings that would 
not yield readily to the siege of years. 

About Louisiana, as about no other state, both the Mis- 
sissippi and the Gulf weave the spells of moving water. In 
the Barataria coast region it has traditions of "Spanish 
sailors with bearded lips," pirate folk of every other race; 
and these memories it would not forego. It is the Bayou 
State, with long reaches of clear brown water capable of 
flowing in either direction, or of standing still; with great 
cypress swamps haunted by the alligator and pelican; with 
lakes that once were ox-bow bends of the vagrant river, 
and with other lakes, like Pontchartrain and Maurepas, 
that lie just inside the blue rim of the coast. It grows rice 
and oranges and sugar cane, and sends to all countries the 
vigorous syrup called New Orleans molasses. It traps musk- 
rats, millions of skins a year. Shrimping fleets and oyster 
craft animate its coasts, and out of salt water are taken 
tarpon, amber jack, and sea turtles, sheepshead, redfish and 


mullet. Framing its streams and swamps, and every path 
that leads in to a plantation framing Louisiana itself is 
the gray Spanish moss, which hangs like stage draperies and 
gives the state a theatrical though somewhat somber aspect. 

Baton Rouge stands on the Mississippi's last hill; every- 
thing below it, as well as much above it, was once the Gulf 
of Mexico. Its French name, which means Red Stick, was 
given it by Bienville because, as he recites, "on the bank 
were many cabins covered with palmetto leaves, and a 
Maypole without branches, reddened with severed heads of 
fish and beasts attached as a sacrifice/' This, of course, was 
a totem pole, the name related to Canada's weather-breed- 
ing Medicine Hat and New York's Painted Post. Baton 
Rouge has its palm trees still. A wind from the south 
breathed through them as I walked in the balmy sunshine 
along streets of white, double-galleried dwellings. 

The town has ancient backgrounds, stormy recollections 
of only yesterday, present significances. One of the earliest 
French settlements, it has been under seven flags, includ- 
ing the banner of the ill-fated West Florida Republic, 
product of a short-lived rebellion. It witnessed the only 
Revolutionary battle fought on Louisiana soil. In the Civil 
War it was held in turn by Confederate and Federal troops 
and was the scene of a savage engagement between them. It 
was the home of Zachary Taylor, and briefly of the prewar 
William Tecumseh Sherman. 

On the morning of the sixth day out of Cincinnati we 
entered a great harbor thronged with ocean shipping and 
clamorous with gulls, passed through miles of droning and 
friendly whistle-welcome, and tied up beside a vessel odor- 
ous with bags of coffee from Brazil. 

We were in New Orleans, and Mardi Gras was just 



I WAS under a spell. I have 

never been quite free from it since, as a boy, I saw New 
Orleans, shared a room with my uncle in Rampart Street, 
ante-bellum habitat though I knew it not of free quad- 
roon concubines, and every evening brought back a pail 
of oysters from the French Market, which the devout and 
sprightly little old Creole dame who ran the house stewed 
with strange herbs and served for us on the back porch. 
There was a show, she said, which we surely must see, for 
it was "jus' like Heaven/' It was The Black Crook! I did 
not see it then, but I did attend a show in the old French 
Opera House, which went up in flames some twenty years 
ago, and there these eyes beheld the dashing Beauregard 
that great general who might have matched Lee's career, 
had not Jefferson Davis, who rather fancied himself as a 
"strategist," judged him wrongly and meddled too much. 
That visit was so long ago that streetcars were drawn by 
mules with bells tinkling at their throats and the warships 
in the river were wooden battlewagons; all the city cisterns 
were on platforms above ground, some of them ranged in 
three tiers atop of each other, and my recollection is that 
I drank only rain water. The Mint on Esplanade Street 
was still coining gold and silver. A statue of Henry Clay, 
since removed, stood on Canal Street in a posture of elo- 
quence, and under it the pedestal on which Ben Butler 
had caused to be carved in 1862 the orator's most forth- 
right antislavery utterance. In our bedroom was an odd 
little night lamp a tumbler half full of water, a layer of 



olive oil over the water, and floating on the oil a cork with 
a tiny wick in it; it gave about as much light as a firefly. 

We went to bed early, save for one night when my uncle 
took me to the Tivoli concert saloon on Royal Street. En- 
tering, we sat down at a table, though I have since read 
that timid crowds of men contented themselves with stand- 
ing upon the curbstone "to catch a glimpse of female limbs 
draped in gauze of pink and blue," limbs apt at dancing 
the cancan and the clodoche. Those that we saw were en- 
cased in black cotton tights, with just a handbreadth or so 
of skirt. Their wearers were robust young women of the 
whalebone epoch who sang from the stage and then came 
down and wandered from table to table, to my secret alarm. 

Twenty years ago I saw New Orleans again and ever 
since I have wanted to return. No other city on earth has 
so held me. 

The spell came upon me for a third time as I walked 
up from my boat to Canal Street and plunged into the 
Vieux Carr or French Quarter, on Royal Street, where its 
life beats highest. This is the old city, a compactly built 
district running only six blocks at right angles with the 
river and ten blocks roughly parallel with it. It should 
have been called the Latin Quarter, had not Paris pre- 
empted the name, for the original French Quarter with its 
wooden houses was destroyed by fire in 1788; a Spanish 
governor rebuilt it in brick faced with stucco, the Santo 
Domingo insurrections shortly thereafter peopled it with 
refugees, and later the fecund Italians moved in. The 
streets have haunting French names Burgundy, Dauphine, 
Bourbon, Chartres, Iberville, Bienville, Conti, Esplanade 
but the architecture is altogether Spanish, and two street 
signs suggest something more. One on the water front re- 
cites, "Furs, Alligator Skins and Pecans/' and that is old- 
time American. Another, farther inland, reads, "Angelo 


Glorioso, Winery/' which is tops in Italian magniloquence. 
Some French is spoken in the streets, but you seem most 
likely to hear it in the Toilettes des Messieurs. There is 
also an occasional bit of gallicized and antiquated English, 
such as this definite comment on crabs: "You not can cut 
dem de head off, for dat dey have not of head" which I 
got out of Lafcadio Hearn. On the outer edges of the Quar- 
ter, where there are black and colored folk New Orleans 
makes a distinction you might hear snatches of Gombo, 
the quaint Negro Creole tongue. 

Circumstances have molded New Orleans into the most 
interesting of American cities, with more in its history to 
win one's attention than in that of many countries. Its 
command of the mouth of the Mississippi established it in 
the seat of authority over the Republic's advance until the 
railroads came. Its oulook on the Gulf and the tropical 
islands that rim the Gulf made it a clearinghouse, and the 
last stronghold, of the privateers, smugglers, and bucca- 
neers of the Spanish Main; made it a city of refuge for 
white families and their slave households driven by wars 
and black insurrections from the West Indies; made it also 
the home of ousted Latin-American rulers plotting coun- 
terrevolutions, and the starting point of filibustering ad- 
ventures into Caribbean lands. 

Strange as it seems, New Orleans was founded, and for a 
while ruled, by Canadians who came down the Great Lakes 
and the Mississippi. It shuttled back and forth among 
French, Spanish, and English overlords before the Ameri- 
cans took hold. Their coming brought another blood stream 
into an already cosmopolitan population, the so-called 
Kaintuck flatboatmen, whose rowdy ways outraged Creole 
sensibilities; a particular cause of offense being their reiter- 


ated assertions that they were of animal or reptilian de- 
scentfrom "hosses, alligators, snappin' turtles." 

Outstanding in the subsequent history of New Orleans 
were Jackson's victory over the British in 1815, which was 
the most important engagement in the War of 1812, and 
the capture of the city by Farragut's fleet in 1862, followed 
by the six-months' rule of Ben Butler, who may be called 
the first of American City Managers, nor yet the best. His 
order that all women who "insulted" Northern soldiers 
should be treated as women of the town caused Jefferson 
Davis to set a price on his head "silly," says the Yankee 
historian Fiske, but "a not unnatural commentary," on 
Butler's conduct. Viewing the chicaneries and confiscations 
of his brief governorship in the light of recent events 
abroad, one might even call him the first of the Gauleiters. 
By contrast, the city holds in high regard Jean Lafitte, a 
pirate in the grand manner, whose rakish ships and cut- 
throat followers held Barataria Bay on the near-by Gulf 
coast, and whose gallantry at the Battle of New Orleans 
won words of praise from Jackson and an absolving proc- 
lamation from President Madison. 

Stranger than its history is the location of the city. Its 
level is only a foot or so above the mean level of the Gulf, 
a hundred miles downstream. Water drains away from the 
Mississippi rather than toward it. You do not go down to 
the river, you go up to it. Even at low stages it stands a 
little above the street level. Wherefore, most of the burials 
are above .ground, and the best architecture of New Or- 
leans is in its white marble cemeteries. As a crowning sin- 
gularity, the river flows north at Canal Street, the sun 
appearing to rise in the west. 

In the same unusual category are the social history and 
outstanding customs of New Orleans. Best known of the 
latter is the series of balls and masquerades which begin 


in the winter holiday season and come to their climax, and 
close, with Mardi Gras; they have been held since colonial 
times and have been noteworthy since 1835. Dueling is no 
more, but in the decades just before the Civil War nearly 
every Creole of standing was at home with the rapier and 
sword cane, quick to resent even a fancied slight, and 
nearly as deadly in his bouts as a rattlesnake that is, if he 
cared to be. The most famous duel was fought to avenge 
"the honor of the Mississippi" which a foreigner said was 
"a mere rill" compared to the rivers of Europe. With duel- 
ing went gambling, and after it came prizefighting; for 
years, when most states forbade such contests, New Orleans 
was the national capital of this vigorous sport. 

As Flint has pointed out, Louisiana had the mildest slave 
code of any Southern state. Among other things, when the 
proportion of Negro blood in an individual had been di- 
luted to one-thirty-second, he could no longer be held in 
bondage a provision that anticipated the studies in evolu- 
tion of Mendel, the Austrian monk. This, with the various 
manumissions by kindly slaveholders, brought a consider- 
able free colored population into being the quadroons, 
so-called. They never intermarried. The men married mu- 
latto women. The quadroon women many of them singu- 
larly beautiful, some of them educated in Europe entered 
into domestic arrangements with white men; such arrange- 
ments were as near to marriage as law and custom would 
permit, and seemed to the women much the same thing. 
When their white partners married in their own race, the 
women were set up as proprietors of retail shops or as 
boardinghouse keepers. The social pacts which had this 
demure epilogue were negotiated at the celebrated quad- 
roon balls, with the mothers of the girls attending as 
chaperons and business managers. While the Creole daugh- 


ters wore white at their balls, the quadroons were garbed 
in vivid colors. Though their admission charges were dou- 
ble, these quadroon balls were the better attended. They 
have been called slave markets, but the term is too rough. 
There are now but few quadroons in New Orleans. If you 
believe its own writers, they have gone North and "gone 

Concubinage is one thing, harlotry something else. It is 
said that the New Orleans brothels never had quadroon 
inmates. The history of the several segregated districts of 
the city has been written at large, and only two items will 
be entered here. At one house, which prided itself on its 
elegant hospitality, the mistress provided apples for the 
carriage horses which brought wealthy patrons to her door; 
and when they dressed the following morning they found 
that their clothes had been neatly pressed, their boots pol- 
ished. The other item concerns a group of weeklies which 
in form, if not in spirit, anticipated modern tabloids, and 
were sold in cigar shops and saloons. Their "Society" col- 
umns contained such notes as this, "Madge Lester has re- 
turned from a trip and is back at Jessie Brown's/' and this 
about somebody else, "Aside from the grandeur of her es- 
tablishment, she has a score of beautiful women." 

These matters are but memories now, and so is Congo 
Square where Negro slaves were allowed to dance on Sun- 
day afternoons, and where, in the bamboula, cancan, ca- 
linda, and Congo, they wove their sense of barbaric rhythms 
into a wildly harmonious pattern. Voodoo worship, how- 
ever, which is associated with this square, still has its fol- 
lowers, and amulets and magical powders command a mar- 
ket among Negroes and some of the whites. 

Is this brief outline of New Orleans yesterdays too much 
a parade of gaieties, depravities, credulities? To balance 


the account a few statements at random: New Orleans is 
the second seaport of the country. Ninety steamship lines 
dock there. More distinguished men and women have lived 
in the narrow limits of the French Quarter than in any 
similar area, among its homes being those of Adelina Patti, 
Audubon, Oottschalk, Beauregard, Lafcadio Hearn, Judah 
P. Benjamin, Paul Morphy, John Slidell, Charles Gayarr, 
several governors, several ex-Presidents of Latin-American 
countries. In George W. Cable it had an interpreter of 
whom any city might be proud. It has a devout church- 
going population. 

In the Vieux Carr I spent the better part of four days, 
eating there, shopping in a small way on that bewildering 
Royal Street, exploring one block after another, emerging 
when some colorful pageant passed by on flanking Canal 
Street, returning rather late at night to the dark, peaceful 
quiet of our steamboat, down among the coffee and banana 
ships. There, as on a floating hotel, I slept and had break- 

With friends from the boat I made a few excursions out- 
side the Quarter: to the so-called Garden district, where 
white-columned houses stand amid palms and have lawns 
and fountains and blooming flowers all the year around; 
along Bayou St. John to the blue, crystal expanse of Lake 
Pontchartrain, which is only four miles from the river and 
is the city's back way to the Gulf; to the beautiful cemeteries 
which in very truth are cities of the dead, their streets lined 
with white marble chapels; to Congo Square where once 
the slaves congregated for voodoo dances. 

But this narrative goes back, as its author did, to the 
French Quarter, stopping at only one place outside it; and 
St. Louis Cemetery is very near it. A brick wall surrounds 
an ancient graveyard, and in its crevices grasses have taken 


root. In places the wall is itself a mausoleum, with open- 
ings into which coffins are thrustlike long loaves of French 
bread in an outdoor oven and then sealed. The wall in- 
closes the strangest, the most haunting spot I know. Among 
banana trees, blooming rose bushes, and date palms heavy 
with purple fruit are the silent homes, marble and brick 
and stone, of men and women who walked the streets of 
New Orleans when the Republic was young. Their habita- 
tions, all above ground, have doors, windows, and little 
balconies with wrought-iron grilles, even as those in the 
near-by Quarter. 

After I was there twenty years ago a pilgrimage that 
took me, coming and going, through streets where women 
called from the windows; Storeyville it used to be called 
I wrote some verses based on the lovely Creole names on 
the headstones, all of those cited being of women. This 
time, to be fair, I noted not only Julie, Marie, Celestine, 
Florestine, and Mathilde, but also Hippolyte, Armand, 
Alcide, Alexandre, Lucien, Auguste. I beg leave to print 
the verses written aforetime. 

I had a dream of women fair 
Within a crumbling close, 
Between the ranks of cedars where 
Their names the marble chapels bear, 
And droops and dreams the rose: 
Once more the earth knew Honorine, 

Babette and Heloise, 
And wore the mirth of Jacqueline, 
Zabette, Nichette, Denyse. 

The morning filled the Place of Arms, 

And church bells clanged above 
The steel that spoke of war's alarms, 


The silks arraying youthful charms, 
The young hearts prone to love; 
And fleet the smiles of Honorine, 

Babette and Heloise, 
But sweet the wiles of Jacqueline, 
Zabette, Nichette, Denyse. 

Along the river bank at night, 
They moved, a merry throng 
Of Creole dandies apt for fight 
And Creole maids with eyes alight 
And lips that framed a song: 
I played the lute for Honorine, 

Babette and Heloise, 
And paid my suit to Jacqueline, 
Zabette, Nichette, Denyse . . . 

By certain shuttered streets they pass 

Who leave the burial ground; 
And there I saw a pleasant lass, 
Of such as spend no time at mass, 
But I looked not around: 
For I was knight to Honorine, 

Babette and Heloise, 
And I had plight with Jacqueline, 
Zabette, Nichette, Denysel 

In the Quarter I saw the things that everybody seeks out 
Pirates' Alley; the old Absinthe House and other haunts 
of Lafitte, in which the Buccaneer film had awakened new 
interest; the "dead church" of St. Anthony, the home of 
Adelina Patti, the Gate des Refugees, the site of the St. 
Louis Hotel where Galsworthy saw a white horse ambling 
through deserted courts, the Gate of the Lions, the Court 


of the Two Sisters, the Spanish Courtyard, the Old Sazerac 
House, the Cornstalk Fence, the Courtyard of the Vine, 
the Patio Royal, the Haunted House of Mme. Lalaurier 
whose cruelties to her slaves incited so the story runs a 
mild insurrection of townsmen; the Cabildo, once the Span- 
ish parliament building, now a museum; the old St. Louis 
Cathedral, commanding the Place d'Armes on the river 
front; the statue of Jackson, whose name the square now 
bears; the imposing apartment buildings erected on two 
sides of the square a century ago by Baroness Fontalba, 
and just beyond, the French Market with its fish, fruits, 
and coffee stands. 

Of course, I dined at Antoine's and other eating places 
of the Quarter, and there discussed such matters as gumbo 
Creole, and bisque 6crevisse, and frog legs, and red snapper 
and pompano en papelotte, and shrimp remoulade, and 
Bayou Cook oysters on the half shell which go very well 
with beer. I brought a pearly half shell away for an ash 
tray. At a number of cocktail lounges one could dance in 
the late afternoon, and a notably smooth concoction was 
the Sazerac. The Ramos gin fizz also had a legendary appeal. 

Some of the handsome old residences with their court- 
yards, gilded mirror frames and black marble mantelpieces 
that of General Beauregard was outstanding we were 
permitted to enter. But the only interior I note here is the 
Convent of the Holy Family on Orleans Street, an order 
of Negro nuns. Sister Conception, country-bred and slightly 
French, met me and a friend at the door, and drew the color 
line at once, turning a group of Negro callers who arrived 
at the same time over to another nun. The convent was 
once the Orleans Theatre, where the free quadroon women 
of the city by all accounts the world's most beautiful 
gave their famous dances, and only young white men, the 
elite of the town, danced with them. I saw the ballroom 


floor, and the open court where amorous couples sipped 
wine and ices under the stars, and the inscription which 
the Sisters have placed above the stairway, "I have chosen 
rather to be an abject in the house of the Lord than to 
dwell in the temple with the sinners." With a sweet toler- 
ance the nun spoke of these things. In the mellow-hued 
chapel upstairs, she told us how a leaden image of St. Jean 
(if I get his name right) extinguished a threatening fire 
downstairs when thrown into it. 

At some time I must have been too near a slot machine, 
for my change pocket held many nickels, each of which, as 
it dropped into the poor box so Sister Conception declared 
meant another meal for an orphan. 

What makes the French Quarter distinctive is that, first 
of all, its yards and gardens are hidden from the street. A 
blank wall awakens expectation and surmise, turns the 
prose of a dwelling into verse, into blank verse, if you 
please unless you surmise a plashing fountain, and then 
thought becomes lyrical. The fountain will be in a court, 
or patio, with double galleries looking down upon it, and 
outside staircases connecting them; and a canary singing 
on the upper gallery, or perhaps a green popinjay, harsh of 
voice. In the court I had luncheon in such a place are 
palms and banana plants and fig trees; grass, perhaps, or 
perhaps a tiled or sanded pavement, the blue sky overhead. 

Exteriors are in limewashes of tinted stucco: cream, mus- 
tard yellow, pink, green, slate-blue, sometimes red. All 
houses have green shutters before windows and even before 
doors, which are deeply recessed. An unpainted wooden 
stoop with elbows for sitters leads to the street. Along the 
basements are small, grated cellar windows like flattened 
portholes. The passageway beside the house seems to be its 
main entrance; on the jealous boards which shut it off 
from the street are the house number, mailbox and door- 


bell. Along the second floor is an overhanging balcony 
with iron grillwork. Under each window of the third floor, 
if there is one, are small individual balconies, also with 

In these grilles is much of the magic of the Quarter. 
Older houses have wrought-iron balconies, made in Seville 
or hand-hammered by slaves in forges at home. The newer 
houses have cast-iron work. These grilles give the streets 
an atmosphere of play and fantasy. I saw a monkey climb- 
ing along one a feat not to be copied by humans, for here 
and there sharp, cruel claws of iron make the adventures 
of porch climbers and second-storv workers something to 
be sorry for. 

It was interesting to figure out patterns woven into this 
iron lace. Favorite motive was the oak leaf and acorn; next, 
perhaps grape leaves and grape clusters. Other designs that 
I observed were passionflowers, fleur de lys, morning glo- 
ries, harps, lyres, crossed cannon, cupids, crossed arrows, 
daggers, doves, conventionalized trees, lodge emblems, 

I saw four of the pageants of the pre-Lenten season: the 
children's carnival of Nor, the krewe of Proteus, the parade 
of Rex, and the procession of the king of the Zulus this 
last a coconut-tossing African revel with a touch of hu- 
morous satire in it. The celebrants rode in gorgeous sym- 
bolical floats, wore rather simpering, good-natured masks, 
and tossed jewelry and other trinkets into outstretched 
hands. But for these maskers there would be no carnival, 
yet the crowd itself, glutting a thoroughfare one hundred 
and eighty feet wide, was the real thing. As the crowd 
passed, I made brief notes and here is the verbatim record: 

Pirates, pierettes, punchinellos, gypsies, men in night- 
gowns, men in brassieres, imitation Africans, cowled 


monks, Scotch Highlanders, cannibals with naked bodies 
and horned heads, harem beauties, female Uncle Sams, un- 
convincing lady ruffians, those phallic hand balloons, bare 
female legs, bullfighters, waitresses, silken-trousered sing- 
song girls, other trousered dames, geishas, Balkanesses, girl 
cowboys, jockeys, courtiers and caballeros, the Grim Reaper 
and his scythe, a turbaned Turk, skeleton and death's head, 
as I live two goons from the Times-Star comic strip, gilt- 
armored crusaders, crinoline misses, more bare legs, ging- 
ham girls, brows bandanna-bound, madras tignons, "Hello, 
Big Boy" (wotta girl!), more legs, togas, candystick trou- 
sers, dunce caps, overalls, slacks, shorts, legs. 

Men and women were dancing in the streets and in sa- 
loons on the lower end of Canal Street as I walked back to 
the boat to change for the Rex Ball, with which Mardi 
Gras closes. At this high-lighted function I found a multi- 
tude in formal attire, a floor of beguiling smoothness, dance 
strains insinuating and adept. Parading before the royal 
court with a partner from our boat, I had a near view of 
Rex and his pretty queen. Wearing the traditional false 
whiskers of his role, he looked quite like the King of 
Hearts. Tall though she is, when the queen smiled, I was 
minded of Sonja Henie. I played hard for that smile, and 
giving myself every benefit of doubt, boasted afterward 
that it had been vouchsafed. 

On the stroke of midnight, revels ended and Lent came 
in. An hour later our boat was on its way upstream. 



OF THAT Red River-there 

are several which is one of the Mississippi's three big west- 
ern daughters, I have seen only the mouth. We passed it on 
our journey to and from New Orleans, midway between 
Natchez and Baton Rouge, on an old boundary line, the 
thirty-second degree of latitude, between Spain and the 
United States. Yet my personal acquaintance with it goes 
a little farther, for I have had a glimpse of the Atchafalaya 
and more than a glimpse of Bayou Teche; the former is a 
bayou by which the Red sends part of its burden to the 
Gulf, the latter was once the lower course of that stream. 

Red River has more to tell that is significant or strange 
than all but one or two of the waterways of the continent, 
and most of its story seems to be nearly forgotten. Part of 
that story it shares with the Arkansas and Missouri. Ascend- 
ing these three by pirogue, keelboat, and steamboat, men 
found themselves on a vaster frontier than that of the Old 
West. The Great American Forest with its humid depths 
and its shadows where painted savages lurked, was left be- 
hind, and in its stead were rolling prairies, high plains, 
lands of little rain an almost continental area which in 
the older school geographies was called the Great American 
Desert. As on the earlier frontier, there were savages and 
buffaloes; but the savages were plains tribes mounted on 
small horses stolen from the Mexican settlements, and the 
buffaloes were in great herds which followed the sun in 
search of pasture, instead of straitened columns moving 
from salt lick to salt lick. 



Men in this Farther West lived, not in log cabins, but in 
covered wagons, canvas tents, skin lodges, sod houses, squat 
adobe dwellings that were rude copies of a spacious Spanish 
style. Their quest at first was for adventurous living and 
for gold, rather than for homesteads. Government forts, 
held by troops of cavalry, went with them or ahead of 
them, and this had not been the rule before, at least in 
Kentucky and Tennessee. The new country was dotted 
with clumps of buffalo grass, with mesquite bushes and 
sage brush, monumented with cactus columns, populous 
with prairie-dog towns. There were rivers flowing only at 
night, which were thought to follow the moon and have 
tides like the sea. Eagerly sought water holes, and wet- 
weather ponds that had been buffalo wallows, were scat- 
tered over the plains. On a distant horizon was the loom of 
snowy, dreamlike mountains with the promise of gold to 
lure men toward the sunset. 

When they went into this western world by the Red 
River, they came upon a singular barrier. In histories and 
travel narratives this is the Raft, printed in capital letters 
as one might speak of the Gulf or the Desert, and com- 
monly dismissed without description. But it did not float. 
It was more like a roof, or a bridge, perhaps a covered 
bridge; the river crept under it or coursed around it. Save 
for its size, it might have been called a permanent log jam. 
It was an accumulation of logs, stumps, whole trees, and 
miscellaneous drift, which extended from bank to bank 
and in some places that was several miles. 

Freshets and its own decay had given the raft a thin, rich 
soil on which broomstraw, bushes, and small willows were 
growing. Usually one could walk across it without wetting 
the feet. A New Orleans savant, who compares it to an old, 
worn-out field that had been abandoned to grow up again, 
gives its length as about one hundred and thirty miles. An- 


other writer reports that in 1832 it extended from Loggy 
Bayou to Carolina Bluffs, a distance of one hundred and 
sixty-five miles. Farther up the river, beyond Shreveport, 
was another raft thirty-two miles long; but these figures 
overlap. There was a third and shorter raft on the Atcha- 

When white men first set eyes on the Red River raft, it 
may have been four hundred years old. It is thought that 
at some remote time the Mississippi was high and the Red 
low, and the bigger river backed into its affluent, creating 
still water at the latter's mouth; drift which came down 
Red, instead of passing out when the Mississippi fell, 
spread from bank to bank, anchored itself there to chan- 
nel snags, and tangled up into an impregnable barrier. 
Everything which descended later was held fast and built 
into the structure, the raft extending itself upstream per- 
haps a mile and a half a year. Its lower and older reaches 
rotted, broke off and floated away after about four years, 
leaving open water beyond; but this disintegration was 
only at half the rate of accretions from above. 

Thus the raft, although stationary, moved upstream and 
steadily grew longer. It had backed off nearly four hundred 
miles from the river's mouth before the government grap- 
pled with it. When Alexandria and Natchitoches were first 
settled, even then the raft was behind them. It has wrought 
permanent changes in the topography of the region, divert- 
ing the river's flow into lateral bayous and transforming 
prairies into lakes. Early boatmen and even small steam- 
boats turned into these bayous, regaining the main channel 
days afterward in their ascent into the interior. 

In 1833, army engineers under Captain Henry M. Shreve 
tackled the raft. He had a so-called snag-eradicator and two 
tenders. The snagger was a double steamboat, the bows 
connected with a stout beam plated with iron. Under a 


heavy head of steam the boat would ram a snag, which 
would break off at the bottom and drift away. Decaying 
lower portions of the raft yielded to less strenuous meas- 
ures and were easily grappled off. Thus in the first season a 
hundred miles were pulled to pieces and floated down river. 
Navigation was opened as far up as Coates Bluff which, 
then uninhabited, is now Shreveport, near the western 
boundary of Louisiana, with a population of about a hun- 
dred thousand, the state's second largest city. It took five 
years to complete the task and enable boats to pass from 
the lower to the upper river. More than once since that 
time, the raft has reappeared. 

Far above the Great Raft, the Red River flowed through 
another barrier, of living trees, not dead ones, which let 
the waterway alone, but against land travel interposed 
something half hedge and half wall. In older travel narra- 
tives this was known as Cross Timbers. It extended from 
the Brazos for four hundred miles across the plains to the 
Arkansas and varied in width from five to thirty miles. 
Josiah Gregg, who saw it in 1833, calls it the fringe of the 
great prairies. East of it were verdurous lands, west of it 
was semidesert, and it almost cut off communication be- 
tween the two. The timber was dwarfish and choked with 
underbrush such as blackjacks, post oaks, shin oaks. Stunted 
by continued inroads from what were called the burning 
prairies, vegetation sprang up anew and in spots became 
so matted with greenbriars and wild grapevines as to form 
almost impenetrable roughs hiding places for wild beasts 
and wild men. 

Captain Marcy, who led an expedition up Red River in 
1852, and found Cross Timbers so crowded with trees that 
wagons could scarcely get between them, has a striking pas- 
sage in his report: "This forms a boundary line, dividing 
the country suited to agriculture from the great prairies, 


which, for the most part, are arid and destitute of timber. 
It seems to have been designed as a natural barrier be- 
tween civilized man and the savage." On one side was good 
farm land and tall timber with plenty of water. "On the 
other side commence those barren and desolate wastes, 
where but few small streams greet the eye of the traveller, 
and these are soon swallowed up by the thirsty sands. From 
the point where Red River leaves the timbered lands, the 
entire face of the country changes its character." 

Of course those thickets are no more, but the regions 
which they bound are as they were. 

Marcy found the source of the Red River Long had 
sought it in vain in 1809 in another region which lies just 
west of Cross Timbers. It bore a haunting name. This was 
known as Llano Estacado or Staked Plain, allegedly be- 
cause the Mexicans had marked with stakes a way across its 
empty spaces; but may not the so-called stakes have been 
cactus pillars set there by the Lord? On the eastern edge 
of this plateau, as Marcy reports, the south or principal 
fork of Red River was half a mile wide, flowing over a 
sandy bed with but little water in it and flanked by hills 
and gullies impassable to wagons. With a dozen horsemen 
he climbed the heights and kept on up the bed of the river. 

He found himself in a valley with precipitous walls, and 
the river only a hundred feet wide. Farther up it contracted 
to twenty feet. The stone escarpments rose to a height of 
eight hundred feet, gradually closed in, and finally united 
above a long, narrow corridor where there was perpetual 
twilight. From the canyon a spring flashed down the rocks, 
and that was the source of Red River. Noble were its be- 
ginnings, framed in what appeared to be castle walls. 

Llano Estacado, where the Red rises, is the Balcony of 
Texas. Though on the map it does not loom importantly 
in the vast Texas spaces, it has an area of thirty thousand 


square miles, is larger than ten states of the Union. It was 
long a land of legend, and to be shunned. Mexican herders 
and Indians told Gregg that it was waterless during nine 
months of the year, that most of its few perennial streams 
were too brackish to drink from, and that some of the 
water holes on the only safe route in the dry season were 
fifty or more miles apart and hard to find. 

"This most inhospitable and dreaded salt desert," is the 
picture the Indians left with the white explorer. Other 
travelers spoke of the shimmering cheats of the mirage. A 
more realistic and quite recent account is in the recol- 
lections of Lane, veteran army scout, who says that in the 
iSyo's the Red River's canyon source was a camping place 
for savage tribes; that the plateau had been stripped of its 
timber by Indian fires, and that then "white men brought 
in too many cattle and ate out the Staked Plain." At the 
springs of Red a number of plains tribes had surrendered 
to General Mackenzie. 

In a theater where all seats are free or all held at equal 
price, and where the balcony is reached by steep flights of 
stairs, the ground floor fills up first, and unless there is a 
crowd the balcony may remain almost unoccupied. That 
is a parable of the Staked Plain. On the eastern side its 
walls rise precipitously and white limestone cap rock rims 
them. From nearly two thousand feet above, it looks down 
on the rest of Texas. Atop, it is a vast level plain which 
extends from the one hundredth meridian to and beyond 
the eastern border of New Mexico, and from the Texas 
Panhandle south to the latitude of New Mexico's lower 
border. On his earlier expedition to Santa Fe, Marcy aban- 
doned the Staked Plain completely to the prairie dogs and 
the owl and rattlesnake tenants of their towns: "It is a 
region almost as vast and trackless as the ocean a land 


where no man, either savage or civilized, permanently 

Events have made a mockery of this somber picture. The 
Staked Plain is now a land of windmills and water, of white 
farmhouses and white cotton fields. It produces more cot- 
ton than South Carolina. The northern part of the plateau 
is the largest wheat-producing area of Texas. All this has 
come to pass since the end of the World War. The collapse 
of 1920 ruined the big ranchers of the South Plain as the 
lower part of Llano Estacado is called; their land was to be 
had for a song, and young farmers and their families moved 
in. From fifty to three hundred feet below the surface there 
was found an inexhaustible supply of pure water. The 
plain is high enough to raise wheat, too high for the boll 
weevil pest, not adapted for corn but friendly to the grain 
sorghums, and its cattle and hogs can remain all year in 
the open. 

The one hundredth meridian, which bounds the plateau 
to the east, has been from the beginning of the Republic 
a boundary both in popular tradition and in treaties of 
sovereign lands in which Red River has played a part. The 
meridian was long thought to be the dead line for rainfall, 
nature's own barrier between the desert and the sown. 
Meridian and river, together with two other waterways and 
the country's greatest mountain range, drew the boundaries 
of the young Republic with Spain, and with Mexico when 
it became Spain's successor. 

By the treaty with Spain in 1819, the boundary between 
this country and the province of New Spain ran from the 
Gulf of Mexico north along the Sabine River and across 
country to Red, west along Red to the meridian, north 
along this to the Arkansas, and thence northwest along the 


latter to the Rockies, which it followed to British Colum- 
bia. The boundary was not far from three thousand miles 
long, half of it formed by the three rivers. More than five 
hundred miles of it followed the meanderings of Red, its 
tinted tide repeating the hue with which boundaries are 
delineated on maps. 

Although the romance that is in all borders suggests it- 
self at a glance, this rambling international boundary would 
be little remembered were it not the boundary between 
Louisiana and Texas and on two sides between Texas and 
Oklahoma. Except its pink water, Red River seems to owe 
everything it has to the courts rather than to the Lord. 

These decreed that the south branch was the main river; 
that the south bank of the branch was the old international 
boundary determined in the treaty with Spain; that the 
river valley had not changed, as claimed by Oklahoma, 
since 1819; that inside the valley the banks have been al- 
tered by accretion rather than island-building as claimed 
by the nation; and that, in fine, the boundary between 
Texas and Oklahoma ran along that place on the south 
side of the south branch of Red where the cut-bank (where 
vegetation ceased) met the sand flat, which latter belonged 
to the nation. Oklahoma's claim that the river had moved 
north and was holding stolen land in and beyond its wide 
valley was nonsuited. 

Explanation of this grapple between states, involving 
sovereignty over what seemed to be worthless sand bars 
covered by every rise of Red River, is that oil was discov- 
ered in the valley in 1919, a pool of great richness under- 
lying the river itself near the (always significant) one hun- 
dredth meridian. 

Oklahoma recently lost again, in the Supreme Court this 
time, in a controversy with the Federal Government which 
it charged with violating state rights by projecting a power 


dam at Denison on the Texas boundary again near the 
hundredth meridian under pretense of flood control. 

Perhaps the most singular expedition of the Civil War 
was that both by land and water the latter a dozen iron- 
clads under Porter up Red River in 1864 to seize Shreve- 
port, then capital of Louisiana. It had rather the odor of 
a cotton speculation and little has been said about it since. 
The Federal commander Banks, who conducted it, did so 
under protest. Ambushed and defeated at the Battle of 
Sabine Forks by Dick Taylor, who had eleven thousand 
men to his thirty-one thousand, he withdrew to Alexandria. 
There began a retreat, which redeemed in some measure 
what had gone before. 

The river was falling. It was feared that low water would 
trap all of Porter's squadron, comprising some of the best 
ironclads of the North's Mississippi fleet; that they would 
have to be blown up to prevent their capture; and that 
thus the South might regain for a time command of the 
Mississippi. But the ingenuity of a Michigan lumberman, 
familiar with splash dams, constrained the Southern river 
to do the North's bidding. "If damning would get the fleet 
over," scoffed the incredulous Porter, "it would have been 
afloat long before." But damming did the trick. The baf- 
fled army, under direction of Lumberman Bailey, came to 
the rescue of the stranded fleet. 

At Alexandria were rapids a mile long filled with rocks, 
through which the river, some seven hundred feet wide 
and from four to six feet deep, was running at ten miles an 
hour. Bailey undertook to make what he called a tree-dam 
to raise its level. Three thousand soldiers with a thousand 
horses, mules, and oxen and two hundred army wagons 
toiled night and day upon it. Oaks, elms, and pines for 
cribbing were felled, stripped of their branches and dragged 
to the north bank, while flatboats brought in stone. On the 


south bank, where there was no timber, old mills, barns, 
and sugar houses were torn down, cribs were made of the 
lumber, and bricks from chimneys, stones from founda- 
tions, and iron railroad tracks were used to sink them. At 
the end of the dams on both banks four large coal barges 
filled with stone and brick were sunk. This left a chute 
seventy-six feet wide. Supplementary wing dams were built 
above after two of the coal barges were swept away. 

Convinced that the fleet was doomed, and entertained by 
songs from the Union camp, Confederate troops watched 
from a distance. The sequel was not to their liking. Back 
of the dams the river rose more than six feet and through 
the chute the gunboats dashed to safety in the open river 
below. It had taken the army only a dozen days to build 
the dam; it would have taken a private contractor a year, 
said the Secretary of the Navy. The skeptical Porter ac- 
claimed it as "the best engineering feat ever performed," 
and he and his officers presented Bailey with a sword and 
a purse of three thousand dollars. 

Perhaps Bailey had remembered the Great Raft. 

Here may be taken up the story of Red River naviga- 
tion, which for a long time was all below the Raft. 

The best descriptions of Red River still very much as 
it used to be are those of the early explorers. They made 
only one important error, guessing its length as twenty- 
five hundred miles instead of thirteen hundred. Along the 
upper river they noted the characteristic details of arid 
America: brackish water, salines, quicksands, stunted brush, 
tumbleweed, dry creek beds that were practicable high- 
ways for men and horses; other creeks bordered with pecan 
trees, black walnuts, elms, hackberries, cottonwoods, wild 
China, trees, willows; here and there an Indian village with 


lodges like haystacks, and about them cornfields and thrifty 
patches of pumpkins, melons, and beans. 

Marcy's account gives the clearest picture. Below the 
Staked Plain he found the river "a broad, shallow stream, 
six hundred and fifty yards wide, running over a bed of 
sand." From this point, he adds, "it flows through an arid 
prairie country almost entirely destitute of trees, over a 
broad bed of light and shifting sands, for a distance, meas- 
ured upon its sinuosities, of some five hundred miles . . . 
It then enters a country covered with forest trees of gigan- 
tic dimensions, growing upon an alluvial soil of the most 
pre-eminent fertility. Below the Great Raft a chain of 
lakes continues to skirt the river for more than a hundred 
miles. These lakes are filled and emptied alternately as the 
floods in Red River rise and fall; they serve as reservoirs, 
which in the inundations receive a great quantity of water 
and as the flood subsides empty their contents gradually." 

The French of Louisiana began the navigation of the 
Red River very early, sending an expedition up it in 1714 
to form a settlement at Natchitoches. In 1730 they sent 
another to drive the Natchez Indians from the Red and 
Black River districts, capturing and selling a number as 
slaves to Santo Domingo. In 1749 the province of Natchi- 
toches had sixty whites and two hundred Negroes, and 
raised cattle, corn, rice, and tobacco. By the end of the 
century, Natchitoches had a population of eight hundred. 

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, American explora- 
tion and settlement began, the first travel being in keel- 
boats of from ten to fifty tons. The first steamboat on the 
river went up to Alexandria in 1820. By 1825 there were 
seven packets running to Natchitoches and making thirty- 
six voyages a year. In 1831 removal of the Ghoctaws to 
Indian Territory began, mainly by way of the Arkansas, 


but also up the Red and the tributary Ouachita and thence 
overland. The Raft was destroyed because it cut off naviga* 
tion between the upper and lower river, hampering the 
removal of the Civilized Indians and also the movement 
of troops and supplies to the new forts set up to protect 
them from their wild plains kinsmen. 

Thereafter steamboats multiplied, mostly small craft of 
around a hundred tons and drawing less than twenty inches. 
About seventy-five of them were on the river between 1835 
and 1840. Perhaps twoscore were stationed above and below 
Shreveport in the Civil War, including a number of Con- 
federate rams, gunboats, and ironclads. After the war the 
New Orleans and Red River Transportation Company had 
nine boats running. Its last boat made its last trip up Red 
River in 1882 perhaps a significant date in what has been 
called the pageant of the packets; the railroads were now 
everywhere in the Western country. 

In 1880 the imports on Red River above the mouth of 
Black were valued at nearly thirteen million dollars; by 
1923 river commerce had dwindled to four hundred and 
sixty thousand, largely down-bound rafted logs. There is 
present navigation as far as Alexandria, about one hundred 
and forty miles up. Most of the towboats and barges which 
enter Red River, however, turn off after thirty-five miles 
and go north on the Ouachita-Black River (one river with 
two names) which is six hundred miles long, has locks and 
dams, and is navigable to Camden, Arkansas, a distance of 
three hundred and fifty miles. Forty-nine steamboats with 
their barges were on that river in 1938, carrying fish, logs, 
sugar, molasses, cotton, beans, dried fruit, fertilizer, and 

Cramer called Red River in 1814 the American Nile, its 
lower valley perhaps the richest in the world. Flint who 
knew it well, and for a time lived beside it, may have had 


the same thought in 1824 when he likened it to "a serpen- 
tine and very deep canal/' and spoke of the snake-haunted 
cypress swamps that flanked it and the shoals of alligators 
on its sand bars. On modern maps it never quite reaches 
the Mississippi, though this is merely a matter of nomen- 
clature. Four miles above its mouth the Atchafalaya takes 
off from it and follows its former channel to the Gulf. 
What of Red reaches the Mississippi from that point is 
called Old River. When we passed the mouth on our New 
Orleans expedition it seemed about the size of the Tennes- 
see, though with its caving banks it looked more like a 
lesser Mississippi. Flint speaks of its ''bloody water." How- 
ever, it was high when we saw it and a chocolate-brown. 



FOR days on the way up the 

Mississippi after Mardi Gras ended we buffeted the flood 
waters of the Arkansas, which moved upon it. They carried 
a message from far-off places that I knew. I had heard their 
low thunder in the Royal Gorge of Colorado. One of the 
river's many fountains I had seen when I crossed the Con- 
tinental Divide and the state line of New Mexico. This 
was at Raton Pass, seventy-six hundred feet in air. As the 
train descended, I had a glimpse of the twin Spanish Peaks 
distant snowy battlements that mingled with the clouds 
but were no part of them. Below was the town of Trinidad 
and a stream called Purgatory which pays a scanty toll to 
the Arkansas at La Junta. Thereafter I followed the main 
river for hours across the high plains of Colorado. It was 
not like the streams from which I had come in the arid 
Southland, and which with their vertical banks, flat floors, 
and a dampness in them that was little more than morning 
dew were easy to mistake for sunk'en highways. The 
Arkansas was an indubitable river, and had water and 
bordering willows. 

Though little is heard about it except in the June floods, 
it is one of the great rivers' of the country. Of all the tribu- 
taries of the Mississippi none starts so high in air, and, save 
the Missouri, none travels so far. It is fourteen hundred 
and sixty miles long. Small steamboats have gone up to 
the Kansas town of Wichita six hundred and fifty miles. 
Rising in the same part of Colorado out of which flow the 
Rio Grande, the Platte, and the Colorado, it traverses a 



corner of Kansas and the States of Oklahoma and Arkansas, 
dropping nearly two miles in its journey to the Mississippi. 
In places it is a mile wide. Bent's Fort, finest trading post 
of the West, was in a wide curve of the upper river. Far 
below, Coronado crossed it in his quest of Quivira. Forty 
miles from its mouth is Arkansas Post, established in 1686, 
oldest permanent settlement in the Mississippi Valley, once 
a famed trading center for Indian peltries, later the terri- 
torial capital. Just above its mouth were the legendary sil- 
ver mines of John Law's dreams, and there he erected his 
short-lived duchy. At its mouth the body of De Soto, dis- 
coverer of the Mississippi, was sunk in a weighted log in 

The best early accounts of the Arkansas are by John 
Bradbury, who was on it in 1810, and Nuttall, who went 
up from Arkansas Post to Fort Smith in 1819 in what he 
called a large shell. Both noted the redness of the water. 
Nuttall found a decadent French population at the post. 
From Indians he obtained honey in a deerskin bottle. He 
saw vast tracts of cane along the river bends, and was told 
there were panthers in the woods behind them. Once he 
came upon a herd of bison. Between the Arkansas and the 
Red he traversed "extensive woodless plains where no echo 
answers the voice, and its tones die away in boundless and 
enfeebled undulations." 

Perhaps the most recent account of a trip upon it was 
jotted down in Thanksgiving week of 1920, in a journal 
to which I have had access. Its author, a friend of mine, 
took the trip as guest of the steamboat Ralph Hicks, which 
was towing a laden barge to Pine Bluff, the first direct ship- 
ment by water from St. Louis in more than thirty years. 

On a late afternoon his steamboat swung into the Arkan- 
sas, passing the site of the drowned county seat of Napoleon 
which, says the diarist, "I did not see, for nobody knows 


where it is." It took half an hour of pushing, sounding, 
and backing before the boat could get into the river. In 
another half hour it tied up for the night against Big 
Island, which is formed by the Mississippi, White, and 
Arkansas rivers and the Arkansas River cut-off. Some house- 
boat families lived there among their goats. The following 
morning the narrator was amazed to find the river narrow 
and tortuous, with a swift current of extremely red water, 
much of it discharging into the Mississippi through the 
cut-off over to White River. When the boat came to a rail- 
road drawbridge "the first thing I had seen, of earth, tim- 
ber or iron, that looked half-way permanent" the pilot 
scanned the channel, decided it was no longer under the 
drawspan, and ducked under the permanent span. 

Beyond the cut-off, the Arkansas widened and deepened, 
and travel was better. The voyagers found two daymarks, 
"the only aids to navigation on the river," and both had 
become hindrances. "I was told all day," notes the narra- 
tor, "that we would lie for the night at Arkansas Post, first 
capital of Arkansas; but when we got there I saw, as usual, 
nothing." With the boat's master he set out on a moon- 
light walk to the post. They threaded a cotton field, fol- 
lowed a hog path for more than a mile and found the old 
bed of the river, still half full of water, lying across their 
way. Just beyond it but out of reach were a general store 
and post office, about all that was left of the ancient town. 

The third day was Thanksgiving, and the midday meal 
aboard was "terrible" no potatoes, a wild duck too nearly 
raw to eat, nothing on the table but canned soup, canned 
peaches, and prunes. However, in the afternoon an officer 
shot two wild ducks, and himself cooked and served them 
smoking hot for supper. Meanwhile, they passed the first 
Southern plantation home they had seen, though now and 
then over the levees they glimpsed the roofs of farmhouses 


and barns. They bivouacked at Greenback Plantation. On 
the fourth day they found a crowd of spectators awaiting 
them as they approached Pine Bluff. Having shot a wild 
goose, they sat down to a farewell dinner before going 

Ten years before, Captain Sam G. Smith, coeditor of the 
Waterways Journal, was on the Arkansas as master of the 
packet Grant which went up as far as Fort Smith and also 
ran excursions from Little Rock. Above the latter, he tells 
me that the Arkansas is the most beautiful of rivers, with 
gravel bottom, a framework of towering bluffs, and here 
and there singular pinnacles rising from the plain to a 
height of nearly five hundred feet. 

For the first half of every year there is a four-foot chan- 
nel from the Missisippi at least as far as up to Pine Bluff; 
for the second half, a two-foot channel. Periodic floods raise 
the lower river as much as sixty feet. Two snagboats toil at 
an endless task set by the caving banks and a shifting chan- 
nel. One year recently the boats removed fourteen hundred 
snags and felled hundreds of trees on the sliding shores. 
There is a modest traffic no passengers at all in 1938, but 
a score of steamers, and twelve hundred barges which car- 
ried sand, gravel, wood, paper, and logs the total value of 
cargoes being a little less than three hundred thousand 

The era of steamboating on the inland rivers began in 
1817 when Henry Shreve's Washington, the first boat that 
traveled on the water instead of in it, went down the Ohio 
and Mississippi. Three years afterward, according to one 
account, there were ten packets on the 'Arkansas. I have 
the names of forty that were upon it a score of years later. 
Actually, they were numbered by hundreds. 

Both Federal and Confederate gunboats patrolled the 


Arkansas in the Civil War. They met at the battle of 
Arkansas Post in January, 1863, in the operations that 
preluded the siege of Vicksburg. Wishing to redeem the 
frustration of his Yazoo River campaign and give his idle 
troops something to do, Sherman suggested an attack on 
the post to his superior, McClernand, who undertook it in 
person with Porter leading a flotilla of Union gunboats. 
The post was a four-bastioned fort on a bend of the Arkan- 
sas with earthworks running from the river to an impass- 
able bayou. Five thousand Confederates defended it. After 
some resistance they surrendered and their six gunboats 
were burned. 

Before that engagement, the river shared in three great 
chapters of American history. Afterward, nothing much 
happened, the decline in steamboating setting in there as 
elsewhere. Though the Arkansas is classed as navigable to 
the mouth of the Neosho in Oklahoma four hundred and 
sixty miles above its own mouth, it now has no commercial 
navigation save in the eighty-mile reach from Pine Bluff 
down. Above that point, the government concluded in 
1928 that channel depths were too uncertain for further 
effort. Below it, constant snagging keeps the waterway open. 

The first and most significant of three services performed 
by the river was the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes 
into the West. A century ago the Arkansas was the only 
highway from the Mississippi to the Indian Territory, from 
the settled lands of the whites to plains with no inhabitants 
save roving bands of red buffalo hunters. To reach the 
mouth of the Arkansas and there begin the last stage of 
their journey, the tribes went by land and water down the 
Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi; across Florida to Tampa 
Bay, down the Alabama to Mobile Bay; from either port 
by steamship to New Orleans, and thence by steamboat up 


river to the Arkansas. Some parties made the whole journey 
overland, traversing Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri on 
ponies or in oxcarts. 

Not all of them left. Some years ago I spent a few days 
among the Eastern Band of Cherokees in the mountain 
fastnesses of North Carolina. They were descendants of 
men who a century ago had resolved to die rather than be 
taken West. The army officer whose task it was to get them 
out, a humane realist, did not want to see his men killed 
while pursuing an invisible foe down impossible ravines 
and over impassable peaks in the Land of the Sky. Consti- 
tuting himself at once President and Senate, he entered 
into some sort of unofficial treaty which permitted the band 
to remain; he got by with it, and there they are. 

I lived in the house of a Cherokee in the Great Smokies 
and called on many of his people. They were kindly in the 
grave aboriginal way. Since then I have been keenly inter- 
ested in their nation. Its members are the most numerous, 
most industrious, and most civilized of Indian peoples and, 
thanks to Sequoyah and his syllabary, almost as literate as 
the whites. They play baseball, they seem to like work, 
and they are at home in the prize ring all of these things 
minor confirmations perhaps of my notion that a long vista 
of civilized life is behind them; that they were the mound 

They are a proud people. Into my office one day not 
long ago came two vivid young women, a brunette and a 
redhead, whom I had met in the Dakota Black Hills. Be- 
fore we went out to a restaurant the brunette dug a small, 
vicious-looking automatic from her handbag and placed it 
in a drawer of my desk. It was a useful companion, of 
course, for two damsels crossing the continent alone in a 
car, but its owner handled it with a casual assurance that 
took me aback. "Did I never tell you/' she said, "that I am 


a Cherokee? When I was a girl in Oklahoma it used to 
grieve me that I was not a full blood. It's all right now." 

She was the descendant of a people living in the South 
whom Andrew Jackson and men like him called "wander- 
ing savages," "children of the forest," and "savage hunters," 
but who in fact were a nation of farmers, merchants, inn- 
keepers, and artisans, who sent their corn, cattle, cotton, 
and fabrics down all the navigable rivers to New Orleans. 
Their first forty years under the flag show up well enough 
beside the first forty years of Puritan New England, and 
they had wrought for themselves a more enlightened gov- 

The major part of the Cherokees went on with the sixty 
thousand Indians who left the land of their fathers be- 
tween 1830 and 1843 and journeyed toward the setting 
sun. Their route westward is known as The Trail of Tears. 

Of the army officers who executed President Jackson's 
removal program, it is to be said that, except in title Semi- 
nole Wars, they discharged with humanity duties which 
many of them detested. The case against Jackson is that he 
evaded the pledges of his government to respect Indian 
tenures in the South "as long as grass grows and water 
flows," by professing that he had no power to enforce these 
treaties against the nullifying acts of local mobs. Though 
he answered South Carolina's threat of secession on a tariff 
matter with a warning that he would send in troops, he 
was silent when its sister states defied an order of the Su- 
preme Court, broke the nation's solemn promises, threat- 
ened to secede, and made no move to restrain the depreda- 
tions of individuals upon Indian lands. 

In effect he said, "See, my Red Brothers, you will be 
happier if you go away, though you need go only of your 
own accord." His exact and strangely self-laudatory lan- 
guage is in a state document which speaks of "an ample 


district west of the Mississippi'* where the red men, upon 
removal, could "raise up an interesting commonwealth to 
perpetuate the race and to attest the humanity and justice 
of this government." 

The project, in a word, was that the nation was not 
itself to break faith; this was to be done by the states, and 
by what might be called the third 'degree. It is true that 
large blocks of Indian lands lay between white settlements, 
and that only -over treaty-stipulated roads could these settle- 
ments have direct communication with each other. A real 
problem might have been solved by recognizing Indian 
culture and providing for a gradual absorption of these 
civilized communities into- the body politic. Or it might 
have been solved by an honest abrogation of the federal 
treaties which gave the red men indefeasible title to the 
soil. The worst possible method was that which was fol- 
lowed. With Jackson looking on, rapacious men who coveted 
not only the Indian lands but all that was upon them 
houses, crops, horses, and cattle were able to get most of 
what they wanted. This was effected through state laws 
which reduced free red men almost to the level of black 
slaves, through the corrupt process of local courts, and 
through mob activities which anticipated the Ku Klux 

When once the tribes were started westward, other pale- 
faceswhisky-vending traders, contractors who furnished 
frozen potatoes, adventurers with eyes on the small com- 
mutation allowances given the fugitives continued the 
work of spoliation. Yet the loss of their goods and chattels 
meant less to the tribesmen than that they were leaving 
the land in which their people had lived for centuries; for 
they were a settled folk with far less of the nomad in them 
than in the generation of white men which decried them 
as wandering hunters. 


They lost their ancestral homes in the South, and the 
government of their white masters gained nearly a hundred 
thousand square miles in Georgia, Alabama, and Missis- 
sippi, paying two or three cents an acre for land which it 
resold to settlers for two or three dollars an acre. It looked 
like quite a bargain, but was it? With the forced removal 
a new strain entered the American nature, to warp it and 
work evil in the generations to come. This was the ingrained 
habit of trying to get something for nothing, whether by 
fraud or violence or both. 

Most but not all of the Southern Indians made part of 
the journey on the Arkansas. Much depended on the stage 
of the river, the seaworthiness of the boats which bore 
them, and the mood of the deported peoples themselves 
when traders got to them and plied them with firewater 
against which they had no usage to build up resistance. 
The story tells of halts at sand bars with the red men dis- 
embarking to lighten the boats and embarking again in 
deeper water; of protracted camps in the woods when 
cholera or smallpox had stricken the migrants, or govern- 
ment rations had failed to come; of cross-country treks in 
oxcarts when the river was down; of runaway flights of 
parties who subsisted on bear, deer, and other game in the 
swamps of Arkansas while they trended westward. The 
easternmost tribes had a journey of seven hundred miles 
before them. Most of the exiles were from three to five 
months on the way. 

Forced migration began with the Choctaws in 1830, and 
ended with the Seminoles in 1843. The other tribes were 
the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. Bad management 
on the part of the nation's civilian agents aggravated the 
woes of the departing peoples. Expeditions were under- 
taken too late or too early, so that winter found the half- 
clad fugitives one government blanket to a familyl on 


the road. Men, women, and children used to open-air liv- 
ing were packed so closely on boats as to invite pestilence. 
Of the Cherokee nation alone, four thousand died during 
the exodus. 

A motley fleet of boats was engaged in the removal. Most 
ambitious were the keelboats which bore a party of Chero- 
kees down the Tennessee River. They were one hundred 
and thirty feet long with two-story structures upon them, 
stoves inside, and five hearths for cooking upon their roofs. 
A number of flatboats were used, some of them eighty feet 
long. These, of course, could go only downstream. Going 
up the Arkansas, they were in tow of steamboats, as were 
many of the keelboats. The names of steamboats, as set 
down here and there in Foreman's authoritative narrative 
of the removal, add up to nearly forty: Archimedes, Black 
Hawk, Cavalier, Cleopatra, Elk, Erin, Farmer, Far West, 
George Guess, Harry Hill, Itaska, John Nelson, Lamp- 
lighter, Lewis Cass, Little Rock, Liverpool, Majestic, 
Meridian, Monmouth, Newark, North St. Louis, Ottawa, 
President, Reindeer, Renown, Rodney, Smelter, Swan, 
Tecumseh, Thomas Yeatman, Vesper, Victoria, Volant, 
Walter Scott, William Gaston. Average tonnage of these 
boats was about one hundred and fifty. 

Sometimes, when the steamboats moved out of the 
Mississippi, they entered the White River and later crossed 
over by the cut-off to the Arkansas. Because of snags and 
sand bars in an uncharted and unlighted channel, they 
traveled only by day, and seldom made much more than 
forty miles. Most of them ascended the Arkansas as far as 
Little Rock in the middle of the state. There many were 
replaced by steamboats of lighter draught which went up 
to Fort Smith, almost on the boundary of Oklahoma and 
three hundred and seventy miles from the river's mouth. 
Some were able to continue to Fort Gibson near the present 


city of Muskogee. Migration ended there and all around 
the Indians were the lands which had been set aside for 
them. The names of counties in the eastern half of Okla- 
homa-Sequoyah, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, 
Osage, and Delaware reveal where they and other exiled 
tribes from farther north found permanent habitation. 

For once a woeful tale has a good ending. The Five 
Civilized Tribes settled down in eastern Oklahoma, re- 
established their ancient cultures, moved forward. Their 
unoccupied lands farther west they ceded to the nation, so 
that other and friendly tribes should have a home. Among 
these were the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches, 
Sacs and Foxes, Pawnees, lowas, Kickapoos, Shawnees, 
Pottawatomies, Wichitas, Sioux, and Otoes. Oklahoma, a 
Choctaw word, means 'land of the red man/' and in a 
measure, so it is. It sent a red man to the Senate at Wash- 
ington. Another red man from a neighboring state became 
Vice President. In the slow justice of time the Arkansas 
River had emerged as the highway to an enduring Indian 

The second chapter the Arkansas wrote in the story of 
the Southwest was written before the railroads took over. 
This may well be called the Commerce of the Prairies, 
which is the name of a book written by Josiah Gregg, its 
best remembered figure. This was the movement of Ameri- 
can men and goods (mostly drygoods) over the high plains 
to the desert emporium of Santa Fe. Alone of all the early 
routes westward, the Santa Fe Trail had a splash of exotic 
color, fetching up at a gay little outpost of civilization, 
instead of among the pines in gold-hoarding high sierras 
or by the waves of a blue, empty ocean. 

The trail began at Independence on the Missouri River 
not far from the Kansas line. Many of the merchants, how- 


ever, shipped their goods on the Arkansas to Fort Smith 
and there picked them up in their covered wagons. The 
rest, if they were well advised, bent their course sharply 
southward from Independence, and entering Indian Terri- 
tory followed the valley of the Canadian River, main afflu- 
ent of the Arkansas, dear to Santa Fe. There was a trickle 
of pack-horse trade as early as 1812 when golden reports, 
brought back by the Pike expedition, excited the imagina- 
tion and cupidity of Americans. Not until 1 824 were wagons 
used so that goods could go forward in quantity. From that 
time until a great railroad reached New Mexico's capital 
in 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was the scene of the most 
bizarre traffic in American history. Four countries had 
something to do with it: France, whose blockade of the 
Mexican coasts barred imports by sea and thus opened the 
way for the covered wagons to bring in their commodities; 
Spain, and then Mexico, whose petty governors and tax- 
collectors were at the far end of the trail; and the United 
States, under which its closing chapter was written. 

Most of the goods carried over the trail were sent on 
down the valley of the Rio Grande to Chihuahua. The 
American merchants brought back from Santa Fe gold 
dust, peltries, coarse blankets and other Mexican weaves, 
and some Indian silverwork. 

Best account of this trade is Gregg's Commerce of the 
Prairies. Beginning in May, 1831, he made eight different 
trips in as many years, the first as member of a caravan 
starting from Independence. It mustered two hundred men 
and a hundred wagons hauled by mules and oxen, dragged 
along two cannon, and had "a wild and motley aspect." 
Merchandise was valued at two hundred thousand dollars. 
The route lay through unbroken prairie for five hundred 
miles, with no timber save stream-bordering cottonwoods. 

Few tents were taken along. The men slept in buffalo 


robes under the serene skies of the plains, and liked it. 
They chased bison herds, feasted on their humps, and 
cured the beef in the dry, pure desert air. They held par- 
leys with large bands of plausible, horse-stealing, wife- 
loaning Comanches. They rode through streets of vast 
prairie-dog towns. They were pelted by storms of hail- 
stones larger than hen's eggs. With emotion they saw the 
snowy summits of the Rockies appear on the horizon. 

At the end was Santa Fe, a mile in air, with its wide 
market place, its sunburned palace, its intimate patios 
shadowed with almond trees and festooned with strings of 
red peppers. There was a fandango in which reboso-draped, 
jewel-bedecked, slim-ankled senoritas danced with the 
traveled merchants. Thus a prairie epic came to its merry 

Less than a generation after the wagons of traders began 
to move along the Santa Fe Trail, the third chapter de- 
scribing the Arkansas' services was written when the wagons 
of gold seekers appeared there and on routes roughly 
parallel. A great migration set in. Though the fact is but 
scantily noted, half or more than half of it started by water 
in steamboats and flatboats down the Ohio, up or down 
the Mississippi to the Arkansas, and up that river to the 
edge of the Indian country, where the land journey began. 
There were times when overloaded packets discharged pas- 
sengers almost daily at the frontier towns of Fort Smith or 
near-by Van Buren after a trip of from four to seven days 
up the Arkansas. In a single season fifteen thousand men, 
most of whom had been carried up that waterway, were 
toiling along the haggard Gila River route, which crossed 
the desert from Santa Fe westward. 

While more gold seekers followed the northern track 
the Oregon Trail up the valley of the unnavigable Platte, 


the southern route, up the Arkansas and along the valley 
of the tributary Canadian to Santa Fe, had things in its 
favor. Spring came earlier on the high plains, and that 
meant pasture for the livestock; with April the wagons 
started rolling. Another advantage was that the track be- 
tween the two forts of the Canadian was a natural highway 
that on a fairly uniform grade climbed slowly toward the 

The wagon folk went westward in companies under offi- 
cers many of whom had seen service in the Mexican War. 
Some companies had fieldpieces, all had traveling forges 
to shoe their beasts and shrink and reset wagon tires; at 
times they stopped to make charcoal for these prairie 
smithies. Cows were taken along for milk and butter. 
Horses and mules were bought when needed from the 
plumed banditti of the plains. 

Adventure moved westward with the wagons. When a 
creek was to be crossed, its vertical banks were dug down 
and the stream was forded with due avoidance of quick- 
sands; or boats were improvised of caulked wagon beds, or 
rafts made by buoying up wagon beds with empty barrels. 
Buffalo herds were drawn upon for fresh meat; deer, tur- 
keys, prairie chickens, and jack rabbits varied the travel 
fare; wild June grapes were a welcome table item. Mesquite 
beans provided feed for cattle. Sometimes hay was cut, 
cured, and twisted for use in the desert stretches beyond. 
Letters to people back home were put in forked sticks for 
returning travelers to deliver. Messages and route informa- 
tion were scribbled on the bleached bones and skulls of 
oxen. At night in the pilgrim corrals, fiddles played and 
people sang and danced. 

Though slower than horses and mules, oxen bore up 
better; and besides, Indians were under no temptation to 
steal them since buffaloes, their wild cousins, were to be 


had anywhere and their flesh was sweeter. As this strange 
trek proceeded and ways grew worse, men cast aside their 
burdens turning wagons into carts by dropping one pair 
of wheels, shifting from carts to pack horses, discarding tents, 
stoves, utensils, harness, guns, books, even bacon. At Santa 
Fe they found desert markets, fiestas, beguiling senoritas, 
and their hearts lightened. What lay ahead, which was grim, 
has no place here, for it was along streams that flowed to 
the Pacific, when they flowed at all. 



FOR some while on our back 

track from New Orleans we seemed to be riding into sum- 
mer instead of away from it. Balmy airs played about us, a 
blue sky bent overhead, flaming sunsets succeeded each 
other, and the night brought out stars never seen except 
on water and in lonely places. The crescent moon drifted 
among them. One evening it was pale green. When I walked 
the decks I had to pick my way around the legs of pas- 
sengers sprawled out in quasi-summer attire. One man, I 
noted, wore congress gaiters. 

The warm spell stayed with us because we were going 
upstream, against a strong current and high water, and we 
therefore went slow eight or nine miles an hour instead 
of fifteen. Somewhat we eluded the current by hugging the 
banks and availing ourselves of slack water behind the 
bends. This meant zigzagging, for they were first on one 
side and then on the other. An earlier traveler counted 
nearly four hundred bends between New Orleans and 
St. Louis; but the river has straightened out some of these, 
and army engineers others. Now it is hundreds of miles 
shorter, and not a mile of it says Mark Twain in the 
same place as when De Soto discovered it in 1541* A shifty 
vagabond of many beds, as well as a ruthless old man, is 
the Father of Waters. 

We were close enough to shore to see muskrat traps 
there, and surmise that the eyes of Cajun trappers surveyed 
us from the thickets. Water from the winding bayous was 



in the woods nearly everywhere, and out of it came a con- 
tinual frog chorus. 

Somewhere in Louisiana an impenetrable fog laid its 
spell on the river, and we moved over to the bank, thrust 
our bow into it, and remained there for four hours of the 
morning. There was plenty of fallen timber in the woods, 
and logs and poles are useful in many ways on a steamboat. 
So the crew set up a stepladder against the bank, and going 
ashore began to garner things in the forest. After break- 
fast many of us followed them. We were in a plantation 
of sycamores, the "broad-leafed planes" of the classic poets; 
some of the leaves, scattered over hummocks and hollows, 
were nearly a foot each way. I followed a bird note strange 
to me, but never set eyes on the singer. Others brought 
in sprays of blooming blackberry. 

When another dense fog came on at night we took refuge 
among the willows and owls on the Arkansas bank, let 
down the gangplank, and unblinded the boat, which there- 
after was a blaze of light in a wilderness without habita- 
tion. A few passengers went ashore again, stumbled over 
roots and logs, and soon returned. Pertinent was the com- 
ment of one of the colored maids, for the gangplank was a 
two-way road, up which the night could send its creatures. 

'Tse afraid/ 1 she said. "S'pose a b'ar came aboard!" 

It looked to me like bear country. 

Such incidents served to heighten a sense of fellowship, 
since whatever happened to the boat happened to all of us. 
The packet had become a floating village with its own re- 
sources of entertainment. As I look back, I am amused and 
a little touched by that chapter of intimate friendliness. 
Save for logrolling and corn husking, we did about every- 
thing that people used to do in the back settlements: danc- 
ing the Paul Jones, with Captain Tom calling the turns, 
engaging in a poetry contest, holding a spelling bee, giving 


concerts, putting on a spirited minstrel show, improvising 
a church-singing service. On other occasions there were 
harmonica solos, piano duets, tap dances, parlor magic, 
palm readings, a grab-bag evening, a mock wedding in 
which the bride carried a bouquet of jimson weeds, a 
ladies' dress-up night, a masquerade ball. The black cabin 
boys and maids obliged with a good concert. Four of their 
numbers that I thought quite in keeping were "Light- 
house, Shine on Me/' "River, Stay Away From My Door," 
"Give Me That Old-Time Religion," and "Lights Out." 

Of course there were coteries. Members of the Kiwanis 
and Rotary clubs had one luncheon to themselves. There 
was a group of young matrons meeting daily in a small 
cabin in the stern of the texas who insisted on calling 
themselves The Rear End Club. My own routine was to 
walk five miles daily on deck alone, with supplemental 
mileage to music and of course with a partner at night* 
After dark, however, when canvas blinds shut off the out- 
side world so that the pilot could steer without being dazzled 
by the steamboat's lights, the social atmosphere broadened 
to include all. 

My preference among my companions may have been the 
Kentucky farmer whose mule, as already noted, listened 
with him when a steamboat whistled. As he confided to 
me, he had been "killt" by another mule, which pouched 
its hoof squarely in his face, had been "drownded" three 
times, had fallen off a bridge, and once had gone down 
with a snagged steamboat. These things happened when he 
was rousting on the river from St. Louis to New Orleans 
and along the lagoons of Louisianaall before he was 
twenty-three years of age. Sometimes he got a job ashore, 
but whenever a steamboat whistle blew he was off again. 
For the last fifty years he had been a farmer above Louis- 
ville, but once more the river had got him. He was having 


the time of his life, and so was his charming, white-haired 
wife. "Such good people aboard/' he said, "I'm learning a 
lot from them." I told him he was learning us a lot more 
than we could teach him. 

However, I interrupted his tale of going down with a 
sinking steamboat. "On Bayou Teche," he began, "we ran 
into a floating cypress log five feet in diameter." 

"Hold on!" I said. "That log was in the water. How did 
you know it was five feet thick?" 

"Wait, and you'll find out," said the veteran farmer, and 
proceeded with his narrative. 

The log which struck them had a projecting snag and 
the boat set it rolling across its own course. Every time the 
snag came up it punched a hole in the little stern-wheeler. 
There were four holes in the hull, each fifteen feet from 
its neighbor. Divide fifteen feet, the indicated circumfer- 
ence of the log by three, and you get its diameter, which 
was five feet. 

"Your point is well taken," I conceded, and the farmer 
kept on. 

The captain drove his sinking craft into a slough on the 
prairie side of the bayou, where it rested on the bottom, 
only the pilothouse showing above water. A wrecking crew, 
summoned from New Orleans, hauled it out on the slop- 
ing shore. "Every time a hole came up," said the Ken- 
tuckian, "water poured out fishes, too. Some of them 
were that long," and his hands sketched finny creatures 
perhaps half as long as the log was broad. 

Our boat newspaper kept a daily record of the craft 
which we met, the people who had come aboard or gone 
off at way ports, and the birthdays of passengers. Among 
its bits of quoted miscellany was the following Morality, 
credited to Mark Twain: "Do right; you will thereby 
please some and astonish the rest." It was announced that 


half-gallon cans of sorghum could be had at the boat's 
store; that in the office was a scrapbook filled with menus 
from famous New Orleans restaurants to refresh our mem- 
ories, and that Natchez had a syllabub worthy of special 
note something compiled from milk and cream, to which 
rum or sherry was added for flavor, and a red-hot poker 
was plunged in for fiery drama. At the end of the cruise 
the paper reported that we had eaten, among other things, 
a ton and a half of potatoes, two tons of beef, sixteen lambs, 
five calves, five hundred chickens ("a whole barnyard") 
and four hundred pounds of bacon. 

When we rounded Plum Point, still as in Twain's day a 
thing difficult to do, our newspaper recorded that towboats 
have to take soundings to measure the depths there. The 
leadsman heaves forward a weighted line, on which is a 
series of markers, and counts the markers as the line slips 
through his fingers. His chant has a different tone for each 
depth, so that the pilot understands even if passengers do 
not. He may be saying Mark Twain, which is twelve feet; 
or Half Twain, which is fifteen feet; or Deep Four, twenty- 
four feet; or No Bottom, which is more than that. 

Anybody who travels the Lower Mississippi is sure to 
hear from somebody the sagas of four noted river boats 
the Natchez, the Robert E. Lee, the Minotaur, and the 
Grand Republic. For the twelve-hundred-mile race of the 
two first-named packets from New Orleans to St. Louis, in 
1870, I might take as text almost any one of twenty-nine 
stanzas of a ballad written a while ago by Captain Joe 
Brown. For example: 

On board the Lee they plain could see 
The Natchez' roaring fire, 
And as they pitched the rosin in 
Could see the steam get higher. 


This was the country's biggest sporting event and even 
in London and Paris large sums of money were wagered. 
Both boats were built on the Ohio and commanded by 
Ohio River masters, each of them a Kentuckiaii with hot 
sporting blood. The Natchez was Cincinnati-made. The 
Lee was begun downstream on the Indiana side, but when 
the Hoosiers learned what name it was to bear, it had to 
be towed across the river to escape their wrath. In the 
great race it reached St. Louis six hours and a half ahead 
of its rival. River men say, however, that the other was the 
faster boat and lost out because it made its usual stops to 
handle freight and passengers, while the rival declined all 
way traffic and in addition to pine knotswhich both boats 
burnedhad a supply of spoiled fat bacon, rosin, and tal- 
low candles to make hotter steam. Yet the Lee's time of 
three days, eighteen hours and fourteen minutes from port 
to port has never been equaled. For reasons of sentiment 
nearly everybody along the Mississippi wanted the race to 
end as it did anyway. 

The steamboat Minotaur had a legendary history in 
keeping with its ancient and forbidding name. Because of 
the legend, Mississippi navigators used to say that any boat 
the name of which begins with the letter M thirteenth in 
the alphabet was under an evil spell. According to the 
story told by Julius Chambers, two well-dressed strangers, 
calling themselves Louisiana planters, boarded the boat at 
Memphis on the down trip, and engaged Captain Durkin 
in draw poker. When four kings were dealt him, he bet all 
his money and his quarter-interest in the boat, only to be 
confronted with four aces. Signing a bill of sale for his 
share of the boat, he retired to his stateroom and shot him- 
self. The note he left declared: "A man who would bet his 
last dollar on four kings doesn't deserve standing room on 


After the Grand Republic was launched following the 
Civil War, a flamboyant age had no direction to go except 
backward, for this was the last word. Down the long cabin 
with its fluted columns, fretted arches, and overhead lights, 
the passenger looked as down the nave and aisles of some 
great cathedral. An insignificant item will save further de- 
scription: the crew included a lamp cleaner whose sole 
task was to take care of the chandeliers. This was the big- 
gest, finest, and probably fastest of all packets, but its 
engines were so powerful that the captain never dared to 
open up and find out. For good reasons it was known as 
the Calendar Boat. It was three hundred and sixty-five feet 
long, and that is the number of days in the year; fifty-two 
feet wide, the number of weeks in the year; twelve feet 
deep in the hull, the number of months in the year. In 
honor of the seven days in the week there were seven decks. 
The floor of the main cabin was covered by a Brussels car- 
pet three hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, specially 
woven in Belgium in one piece for the boat. It cost forty 
dollars a square yard. 

From the decks of the Gordon C. Greene we saw less 
showy craft come and go, mainly by day. Ships that pass in 
the night and speak one another in passing may be "only 
a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness/' if they 
pass at sea. On the river, as we found, there was a little 
more a vague blur of light, the jangle of bells, comradely 
whistle blasts; but we never learned the names or trades of 
those boats. Of all we met in the daytime, going or coming, 
I remember the towboats Slack Barrett, Tennessee, Louisi- 
ana, /. D. Ayres, and Jacona; the ferryboat George Prince 
and the steamboat Tennessee Belle, both at Natchez; the 
harbor excursion boat Capitol at New Orleans; the ferry- 
boat Lorrene, which came alongside at the Arkansas town 
of Helena to take off two passengers; the army towboat 


Coiner, and the side-wheeler Willow, another government 
boat, which tends shore lights on the lower river. There 
were also several treasury boats, survivals of the prohibi- 
tion era, when a fleet of small, fast vessels patrolled long 
reaches of timbered shore behind which the smoke of illicit 
stills was rising. 

With the Coiner we came as near to a race as army tradi- 
tions would sanction. At Vicksburg it beat us out of the 
Yazoo River and got the start, hugging slack water along 
the shore and compelling us to battle the swift current in 
midstream. Again and again we drew abreast, and at last 
ahead; but then the meanderings of the channel gave it 
titular right to blow the passing whistle, and we fell back. 
"Just prior to press time," said our newspaper, "the Coiner 
disappeared through a newly dug chute and was seen no 

Now and then we came upon flotillas of barges pushed 
by stout towboats and operated by two lines which carry 
most of the commerce of the river. The Mississippi Valley 
Barge Line, which bears cargo to and from New Orleans 
out of both Cincinnati and St. Louis, is owned by private 
capital. It has four towboats and a growing fleet of barges. 
The Federal Barge Line, which is government-owned, has 
twenty-seven towboats and numerous barges. Established 
in the World War to relieve freight congestion on the rail- 
roads, its first service was between St. Louis and New Or- 
leans. Now its trades are up the Mississippi to St. Paul, up 
the Illinois and connecting waterways to Chicago, up the 
Missouri to Kansas City, and out of the Mississippi and 
into the Gulf eastward as far as Mobile. 

Our first scheduled stop upstream was at the Louisiana 
town of Plaquemine. Here an ordinary packet can pass by 
lock out of the Mississippi and reach the Gulf by way of a 
canal, a lake, a bayou, and another river. A ferryboat laden 


with good cypress boards came out and we took them on. 
So other steamboats do, for these cost only one-third as 
much there as in Cincinnati, and because they do not rot 
in water they come handy in mending stern timbers. They 
were put aboard by lean, tanned youths with black, coarse 
hair. When I asked if they were Cajuns, they demurred; 
the Acadian country, they said, was "as much as eighteen 
mile away." But passengers were skeptical. 

The fate of Kaskaskia, old Illinois territorial capital, 
sunk for a generation beneath the Mississippi's waters, was 
also that of the town of Napoleon, which stood on the point 
where the Arkansas comes in, and is now lying in the bot- 
tom of the river; in the same watery grave, as heretofore 
noted, is Natchez-under-the-Hill. When we passed Vidalia, 
a sweet and venerable little town on the Louisiana shore 
across from Natchez, we were bade to look at it twice, or 
thrice, for none of us might ever see it again. The cut-off 
above Natchez doomed it, and this had to be made, for the 
river was undermining the bluffs of that old Spanish town. 
Vidalia may end in the next flood. 

Here and elsewhere we watched the army's unending 
battle with the river. At first individual planters, building 
detached levees to protect their own holdings, had to do 
this alone. But by 1879 people got the thought that as the 
Mississippi carried off the waters of the country, its control 
was the national concern. After that, government engineers 
used all the devices they could think of. They built wider 
and higher levees and the 1927 flood burst them. They 
ordained the nine-foot channel above Baton Rouge, and 
endeavor to maintain it by snagging and dredging and 
taking weekly soundings to locate and remove hidden bars. 
To narrow and deepen the channel, they built fences and 
retards, silt collecting behind them and advancing the 
shores. They revetted the banks against caving by means 


of mattresses woven from willow branches and held down 
with rocks, or made of asphalt and concrete. They created 
spillways through which surplus water could pass and so 
lower the crest of a flood; these worked well in the 1937 
flood. Also, they established cut-offs. 

Those cut-offs are a matter of debate among army engi- 
neers. If, for example, you cut a new channel only two 
miles long across a bend twenty-two miles around, you 
shorten the river twenty miles; but if in that journey 
around the bend it dropped half a dozen feet, it has to 
make the same drop thenceforth in two miles. That means 
fast water in the cut, above the cut, and below it, with a 
rapidly emptying river; it means that the flood hazard is 
abated in the valley above but augmented in the valley 
below, and in dry seasons there is likely to be a channel 
possibly too shallow for big boats. It is like leading a road 
straight up a hill instead of around it. 

Through the Caulk Point cut-off across Monterey Bend 
we had shot like an arrow on our way down; thereafter for 
a while we ran along at twenty-three miles an hour. With 
a sense of drama we entered it again on our way up, for 
we knew what it had done a fortnight before to the Federal 
Barge Line boat Vicksburg, which entered it pushing a 
tow. "Go round about," said the river, which, you remem- 
ber, was the maxim of the Great Boyg, god of Ways That 
Are Crooked, in Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Shoving the flotilla 
back into the main channel, it forced it on a humiliating 
sixteen-mile ride around the bend to a point that was but 
little more than a mile away. 

Government dredges had made a ditch a hundred feet 
or so wide across the neck the preceding November, and 
left the rest to the river, which takes years to widen, deepen, 
and round out a new stretch of waterway. 

Every boat helps in this task, for its waves do things to 


the crumbling banks. We watched them as our packet 
moved in. Loosened earth slid in small streams from under 
the turf. The naked roots of naked, nodding willows over- 
hung the swirling water. Then a tall tree, wearing the green 
leafage of spring, toppled over and fell in with a loud 
crash, the spray flying far above it, and just above the spray 
two startled wild ducks. Amid equal tumult a second tree 
smote the turbid water. 

Passengers crowded to the bow to watch a drama's denoue- 
mentthe final struggle of the packet against the main 
current of the Mississippi where the latter swept into the 
cut-off from what seemed a higher level. Looking at the 
surface, I thought we were going fast. Looking at the shore, 
it was another story. "I could outwalk the boat," I de- 
clared. Over whirlpools that would have stood a rowboat 
on its end we crawled along just the word, for there I 
could have crawled as fast on my hands and knees and 
when at last we swept back into the river, a cheer went up. 
It had taken us twenty-five minutes to go a fraction more 
than a mile. 

Though our packet went on to Cincinnati, the cruise 
lasting twenty days, this is the point where I think Mark 
Twain would have ended his account of it. Anyway, I do. 




traditional center of Cincinnati life. Once it was covered by 
a great, fly-haunted market house. Only by replacing it with 
a fountain could the city get rid of the vested rights of forty 
butchers. It did a good job of it, filling the square with the 
murmur of falling water, satisfying the eye with a tasteful 
arrangement of figures done in a refined baroque style. 
The fountain was made in Munich. Most beautiful of its 
four groups of figures is that of a woman half unclad lead- 
ing a naked boy to the bath. There is a scandalous tradi- 
tion that the model for the woman was Lola Montez, the 
Irish adventuress who became mistress of King Louis of 
Bavaria and by her escapades caused an insurrection, prac- 
tically dancing him off his throne. It is more to the point 
that the south panel of the pedestal that facing toward 
the Ohio shows a side-wheeler lying along a river shore. 
Thus through the generations the city declares its aware- 
ness of the forces that brought it into being. 

One of these forces robust and romantic was that of 
the foremost naturalist of America, who quested along 
rivers on a number of which, more than a century later, I 
traveled myself. When Audubon paused for a while to 
resume family life and get in some needed cash by running 
a mill or a store, or painting portraits, or stuffing birds and 
animals, it was at river towns Cincinnati, Louisville, Ship- 
pingport, and Henderson, all on the Ohio, and at New 
Orleans. For a while he was employed in a natural history 
museum in Cincinnati. There were no railroads then, no 


good roads; so he journeyed by canoe, flatboat, broadhorn, 
steamboat, on muleback, or afoot. Though he was often 
desperately hard up, perhaps he lived more joyously, and 
certainly saw more things worth seeing, than any other 
American of his time. The Ohio Valley has rightful claims 
on his fame. 

I have not been able to take the river altogether for 
granted, as men are wont to take familiar objects. For years 
I have looked out upon it daily from the newspaper build- 
ing where I worked; a glance would tell me whether it was 
rising or falling, and how much; from the sheen upon it 
I knew what sort of sky was overhead. Sometimes when I 
was downtown at night I descended to the levee to see the 
dark craft huddled there, the lights of the Kentucky shore, 
a moon riding the water. The bovine note of a fog-bound 
packet was a welcome sound in my sleep, and the wild 
music of a calliope, heard from near or far, always did 
things to me. In other parts of this narrative I have done 
as all river writers and all steamboatsdo, which is to 
start from where they are and go somewhere else. In the 
present chapter I shall stay where I am. 

But the double rows of hooting steamboats that once 
thronged the levee front are heard from no more. Things 
seem quiet, a deceptive quiet. Nowadays freight comes and 
goes, not in packets but in barges pushed by towboats, and 
towboats do not advertise their presence with whistles. Last 
year's tonnage on the Ohio was five times as great as that 
in the World War year of 1918 and almost equal to ton- 
nage through the Panama Canal. How this could be was 
demonstrated years before when the Sprague went down 
the river with sixty barges, containing seventy thousand 
tons of coal. It would have taken a hundred and twenty 
good-sized packets to carry that cargo. Nowadays, sixty- 
three boats of major size come and go in the harbor: two 


showboats, one passenger boat, one excursion boat, one 
Coast Guard cutter, all the rest freighters. 

There are four common carrier barge lines, each with 
its towboats and a cluster of barges; four coal lines, the 
fleets of which come down from the West Virginia mines; 
two lines which carry oil and gasoline; three steel lines 
with their barges; seven towboats which propel cement 
barges; a coke boat, and a general freight line with four 
steamboats, two of them converted packets. Other tow- 
boats with cargoes of steel for the lower Mississippi pass 
through the harbor without stopping. 

Gideon's Band, by George W. Cable, speaks of a wharf- 
boat at Natchez in 1852. Civil War pictures show small 
wharfboats tied at Cincinnati's Public Landing. These 
amphibious craft came into being in the first generation 
of steamboats. They are both passenger stations and ware- 
rooms, in which you may find apples, potatoes, cabbages, 
tropical fruits, farm implements, baled hay, chicken feed, 
groceries, tobacco sticks, cars, now and then the household 
goods of a family moving by river, or even live hogs, 
cattle, and mules. Wharfboats are the answer to two un- 
certaintiesthat of the rivers and that of the packets. If 
rivers kept at the same level, stationary docks would suffice. 
If the old-time packets could have kept their schedules, 
and kept off sand bars and away from snags, passengers 
who had come in from the backwoods would not have had 
to wait for indefinite periods at the landings. But some- 
times a river rose a dozen feet a day. The wharfboat, 
moored to shore, could rise with it, and put out a gang- 
plank over which goods and people moved. Sometimes 
night brought no packet. So a few of the larger wharfboats 
had a second story with beds for passengers. 

Though the packets are fading from the picture, per- 
haps the greatest of all wharfboats lies at Cincinnati's Pub- 


lie Landing, and it is new. Long and low and wide three 
hundred and sixty feet, by seventy-fiveit looks like a shed, 
a barn, a ranch house, yet it draws less than four feet of 
water. At one end in a sort of balcony (granary would be 
a more descriptive term) are the offices of the Greene line. 
This great floating dock stands for a fortunate circum- 
stance repeated nowhere else on the inland rivers. The 
cities of Cincinnati and Louisville, one hundred and twenty 
miles downstream, are only a night's run from each other 
by the freighters, and there is plenty of business at each 
end so that boats come and go with full cargoes. 

There is a sort of barge harbor in the West End of 
Cincinnati. From the deck of a towboat I looked upstream 
over a fleet of barges that were taking on or discharging 
miscellaneous cargo from or to the ports of the Mississippi, 
and to another fleet of barges laden with West Virginia 
coal. Looking downstream, I saw two Africans cooking 
something at a fire on the bank, and beyond them a cluster 
of shanty boats, with shirts and overalls fluttering on the 

I had been on a number of steamboats, but never on a 
towboat, barring the wooden craft on which I had traveled 
two Southern streams. That was why I made a visit to the 
river and the Mississippi Valley Barge Line. The Ohio 
had just completed a fourteen-day run from New Orleans. 
Descending the mud bank by a sketchy flight of wooden 
steps, I went aboard, stopping on the way to look through 
a flotilla of barges, painted a torpedo-boat gray, which lay 
between the boat and the bank. One was a blacksmith shop 
with anvil and bellows, where men were shaping hot iron. 
Another was a wood-working plant. A third had machine 
tools. These were the repair shops of the line. 

Being an all-steel boat, the Ohio is not as picturesque as 
the old wooden packets, on which I have ridden. It could 


not be. They were gaudy and gilded, and rose high out of 
the water like a swan; the towboat is more on the flat- 
backed duck pattern. Yet it is a handsome boat in its com- 
pact, efficient way. 

It does not carry passengers, nor freight. It just pushes 
barges in front of it, and therefore its living room space, 
for officers and crew twenty-eight in all is limited. But I 
noted a small lounge, well-appointed sleeping rooms with 
baths, a radio office, a laundry, messrooms for officers and 
crew, the cook's galley, ice rooms where meat and vege- 
tables and dairy products are kept, filters to provide drink- 
ing water, and a glassed-in pilothouse which was true to 
river tradition in that it had a high chair, and an elevated 
leather-cushioned observation bench of the sort that always 
makes me think of a bootblack's stand. 

This is what is called the tunnel type of towboat, steam 
driven, but burning oil instead of coal. Its twin propellers 
operate in tunnels in the stern, on the principle of an out- 
board motor, and there are four rudders. Two hundred 
feet long, forty feet in beam, and with engines of two 
thousand horsepower, it makes the down trip to New Or- 
leans with a fleet of barges in seven days, and takes twice 
that long to come back. Its usual rate of speed is somewhat 
less than that of the passenger packets. Stops are made at 
way points to pick up loaded barges of tobacco. No freight 
is discharged until Memphis is reached. There are three 
other towboats, all bearing the names of states; every three 
hours they get in radio touch with the home office. 

Looking along the shore, I saw the work of unloading 
proceed. At a tipple in the distance, clamshell buckets 
were lifting the coal from thousand-ton barges and carry- 
ing it to hoppers, whence it was taken away in railroad 
cars or trucks. Midstream, a barge piled high with sulphur, 
perhaps from Texas, was going up the river. Nearer at 


hand a monster crane, which had been used at Muscle 
Shoals, reached out one arm a hundred feet or more, 
picked up carriers full of boxed merchandise, took them 
to the side of railroad cars in the river-rail terminal, and 
returned the carriers empty to the barge below. From the 
terminal's upper level, elevators lowered electric trucks to 
the very doors of barges. This process of loading and un- 
loading does not dispense with the roustabout, but it does 
dispense with his gangplank trips to and from the shore. 
He still rousts, but not about. 

I explored one of the steel barges. With a covered deck 
over the hold, and seeming rather like a double-decked 
box-car, it will carry close to three hundred tons. Any 
number of barges can be grouped in a streamline pattern. 
A barge fleet is lashed tightly to towing knees in die bow 
of the boat, so that everything moves as one piece, like 
log rafts in the yesterdays. There is nothing wrong with 
all this, except the name towboat, which pushes instead of 
pulls. What might happen if one of the tugboats you see 
in New York harbor should start down the Ohio, pulling 
a bunch of barges at the end of a long rope, would be just 
too bad. 

There remains one boat to be described, one which per- 
haps I have left till last because of the lowly status it 
occupies in the sight of the towboats, barges, and wharf- 
boats that ply a serious trade on the waters of the Ohio. 

Now, a shanty, you will agree, is a house of sorts, but a 
house need not be a shanty. So with floating dwellings. A 
shanty boat is a houseboat, but a houseboat may not be a 
shanty boat, and usually is not. The matter depends some- 
what on the social rank of the tenant, somewhat on whether 
he has a steady job, and more on the interior furnishings 
of his mind than on those of his craft. The distinction, 


though often a bit vague, is important from the stand- 
point of the law, for houseboats may dock anywhere along 
both shores of Cincinnati harbor, while its bordering 
cities deny their water fronts to shanty boats. In intervals 
of law enforcement they are moored in outlying coves. 

Their owners are nomad folk, and may be of pioneer 
stock. Some are former hillmen from Kentucky. Others 
are descended from men who pulled the sweeps on rafts 
and flatboats, or earned day's wages at steamboat land- 
ings, or drifted down the rivers to find jobs in the saw- 
mills that were cutting down and cutting up the virgin 
forest. The shanty boatman is a casual workman who pays 
no taxes and no rents, supplies his table with catfish taken 
from the river, burns driftwood in his kitchen stove, and 
equips his humble home, it may be, with chairs, bedstead, 
a table, a clock, and perhaps a violin or guitar, which high 
water has brought him. Sometimes he shoots a wild duck 
or a tame hen. It is tradition that he raids the corn rows 
and garden patches nearest the waters, and he has Biblical 
sanction for doing so. Embodying the timeless paradox of 
nomadic restlessness and a deep love of leisure, perhaps he 
is a symbol of the river itself. 

For what is left of Cincinnati's shipyard industry, one 
must go down the Mississippi to Algiers, across the river 
from New Orleans, and to the wharves of a steamship line 
there which fell heir to it. No signs of it are left along the 
stretch of Ohio's shore which runs east from the Public 
Landing. Yet there in the preceding century boat yards 
and sawmills covered miles of the water front, and back 
of them were hotels which served the trade. At least four 
seagoing vessels were built before 1850 a ship, a full-rigged 
brig, and two barks. The arrival in England in 1845 of 
the Muskingum, constructed farther upstream but clearing 


from Cincinnati, seventeen hundred miles from the Gulf, 
caused British exclamations of amazement. 

Steamboat building, while it lasted, was a high chapter in 
Cincinnati history. Launching its first packet in 1816, the 
city soon took a leading rank. In 1826, out of one hundred 
and forty-three steamboats on all the inland rivers, forty- 
eight were Cincinnati-made. In 1840 the local yards turned 
out thirty-three boats, in 1842 they turned out forty-five. 
The total runs into the hundreds. A few Cincinnati boats, 
built for the South American trade, went out of the Missis- 
sippi and essayed to cross the Gulf and the Caribbean; not 
all of them got across. A number were shipped in pieces 
and set up in foreign countries; more were designed in 
local lofts by skilled workmen who carried the plans abroad, 
constructing boats which plied the Amazon, the Orinoco, 
the Magdalena, the Volga, the Nile, and the Congo. The 
last Cincinnati-made steamboat of any consequence was 
the first Island Queen, built in 1896. 

Cincinnati is the capital, in all matters pertaining to 
navigation and flood control, of what, to use an old term, 
might be called the Ohio Country. It covers fourteen states 
or parts of states, six of them on the Atlantic seaboard. 
The entire watershed of the Ohio about two hundred 
and four thousand square miles is in charge of army engi- 
neers stationed in the Queen City. This includes the big 
river, its eleven navigable affluents, and every small river, 
creek, or brook tributary thereto. The principal streams 
are the Allegheny, Monongahela, Muskingum, Kanawha, 
Little Kanawha, Big Sandy, Kentucky, Green, Barren, 
Cumberland, and Tennessee. 

The city also is one of the five district offices of the 
watershed. Three hundred engineers are stationed there. 
Its limits have pictorial names from "a point below Big 


Sandy River to Lonesome Hollow Creek/' which is nearly 
two hundred and forty miles. The office built and operates 
the eleven locks and dams in this stretch of the river. Re- 
moval of snags, dredging of bars, and maintaining a year- 
round nine-foot channel are among its duties. So are flood- 
control projects at the headwaters of streams, and clearing 
obstructions at the mouths of certain small tributaries such 
as Licking, in which high water from the parent river 
sometimes creates a harbor navigable for three miles back. 
At the edge of the city are marine ways and shipyards 
where government boats are built, repaired, or stored, by 
a force of something less than two hundred men. Cincin- 
nati harbor is the twenty-seven miles of river between the 
mouths of the two Miamis. 

When the Tom Greene and Betsy Ann had their famous 
race up the Ohio a few years ago, there were men aboard 
to watch the boilers. They came from the Division of 
Marine Inspection and Navigation which also has its head- 
quarters in Cincinnati and covers the wide Ohio Country. 
The local office is ninety years old. Besides keeping an eye 
on such contests which lately have been rare it tests 
boilers and lifeboats, inspects tank barges containing com- 
bustible liquids, conducts fire drills on passenger boats, 
holds trials after river accidents, and examines and licenses 

Four steamboats, one named Grace Darling, descended 
the Ohio and Mississippi in 1846, laden with bacon, lard, 
and lard oil for the New Orleans markets. I have seen the 
insurance policy, written by a vanished Lexington, Ken- 
tucky, house for their cargoes. Romance invests this pas- 
sage: "Touching the adventures and perils which the afore- 
said insurance company is contented to bear, they are of 
the rivers, seas, men-of-war, fires, enemies, pirates, rovers, 


thieves, jettisons, letters of mart and counter-mart, sur- 
prisals, takings at sea, arrests, restraints, and detainments 
of all kings, princes or people, and all other perils, losses 
and misfortunes, which have, or shall, come to the hurt, 
detriment or damage of the said Goods and Merchandise/' 

This category of the hazards of inland navigation may 
seem fantastic; yet there were thieves on the rivers, some 
of the packets adventured the open seas, and not far ahead 
was a great war in which many of them went down in bat- 
tle. Modern policies use much the same terms, and boats 
and cargoes are insured in every considerable river port. 
The biggest house in this line is in Cincinnati. Boats which 
it underwrites they number thousands operate on the 
entire navigable length of the Ohio and Mississippi, the 
Missouri from Sioux City to its mouth, the Arkansas from 
Pine Bluff to its mouth, the Red from Alexandria to its 
mouth. The founder of the line was born in a covered 
wagon in what used to be called York State and had been 
a steamboat captain. 

Marine insurance, like steamboating itself, was once a 
risky thing. There were no government lights, and there 
were snags and sand bars and racing captains. An average 
steamboat lasted scarcely four years. The Ohio, however, 
was always the safest of rivers, boats in 1870 paying 8 per 
cent insurance a year on their hulls, as against 1 1 on the 
Mississippi, 15 on the Arkansas, 16 on the Missouri, and 
17 on Red River. Now steel towboats on the Ohio pay 
from 2 to 4 per cent. 

The oldest packet policy I have seen, which assured 
Daniel Greene, ancestor of the present Greene river fam- 
ily, for ten thousand dollars against loss of his Isabella, 
appraised at fifteen thousand dollars, was written in 1828. 
Another old policy recites the cargo items which the com- 
panies insured against loss. Some of these I copied: "salt, 


saltpetre, alum, copperas, corn, all kinds of grain, seeds, 
peas, beans, cider, beer, ale, tobacco, pork, bacon, cheese, 
dry fish, vegetables and roots, pleasure carriages, household 
furniture, skins and hides, musical instruments, looking 
glasses, books and stationery, hemp, yarns, bagging, bale- 
rope, twine, flax, bread, teas and sugar, (brown, white and 
loaf.)" All these commodities are still insurable, still car- 
ried on the inland rivers. 



THERE was only thirteen feet 

of water in the channel. So I knew why pilots speak of the 
Hill. Cincinnati was so far above that it seemed to be in 
another world, a world of dark building fronts, and lumi- 
nous, unreal towers beyond them. A winding sawdust path, 
on which young women were moving, led down the hill to 
the river. On a darkling current the lights of two bridges, 
the street lights of two cities, were reflected. I followed the 
path and entered the showboat. As I sat at a window there, 
the glamor of familiar yet always strange settings enveloped 
me, preparing me for whatever glamor the floating theater 
had to offer in Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl. 

While I awaited the curtain I bought peanuts, good pea- 
nuts, from an aisle man whom I recognized later as the 
madhouse guard of the play. So did a lot of Young Things 
who filled the center section of the boat. This was a sorority 
rush party from the university. They were out for a good 
time and disposed to deride all the traffic of the play. They 
made quite a racket. In the intermission when Billy Bryant 
expressed surprise to find them there "you were so quiet 
that I never guessed it" perhaps they glimpsed the Great 
Truth of his showboat showmanship, which is that the real 
kidding is done on the other side of the footlights. 

Bertha's bosom heaved and fell, and she never cracked 
a smile; and yet, if I mistake not, the joyous young woman 
in the entr'acte vaudeville who wore overlong skirts and 
flopped through an amusing song-and-dance act was none 
other than she* When the villain told her that she was 



"The Girl That Men Forget/ 1 and sang the song to that 
effect (it's an Olympic burlesque memory), her reaction to 
his bathos was splendid. 

So the show proceeded, and the sorority lassies cheered 
and booed and made the walls of the boat bulge whenever 
a Sentiment was emitted, which was pretty often. At two 
places the script of the play may have been tampered with 
by some ribald river hand. In one passage a suitor speaks 
to his girl of moonlight rides on the canals of Venice. He 
mentions sycamores, whippoorwills and snags; I have seen 
these along the Ohio but never on the Grand Canal. The 
other spot was a reference to the occupation of the million- 
aire father of the young man whom Bertha has secretly 
married while servant in his home. When the sire would 
break up this match, the younger man proclaimed, "Then 
I will no longer be the son-of-a-biscuit-maker." The line, 
which sounded vaguely familiar, was received with sorority 

Of course, Bertha's husband was disowned by his rich 
father, her baby abducted, herself confined in a madhouse, 
and there were attempted stabbings and poisonings. 
Things might not have gone well but for Cheatham (that 
was Billy Bryant), who intervened when needed. His ap- 
pearance .came to be expected, and once when seemingly 
delayed the sorority crowd shouted: "Cheatham, Cheat- 
ham! Bring on Cheathaml" It was quite an evening. 

Descending Cincinnati's Broadway, I turned to the left 
at the Public Landing, walked across a number of beached 
floats which belonged to a canoe harbor, turned to the 
right, and followed a rude pathway of ashes down the mud 
flats. This fetched up at the river where I went aboard a 
waiting steamboat. It was the Coast Guard cutter Green- 
brier, a lighthouse tender until July, 1939, when that 


service was consolidated with the Coast Guard and placed 
under the Treasury Department to be shifted to the Navy 
if war should break out. It is a stern-wheeler of trim lines, 
and of three hundred tons burden. Its beat is the Al- 
legheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Kanawha, and Tennessee. 
Twice a year it covers every navigable mile on these rivers, 
and that must be nearly two thousand. 

It was just noon when I boarded it, which is the time 
when people eat. "Let us eat," said Captain Arthur J. 
Schletker which is Captain Red's formal but less ne- 
gotiable name and we did. Table talk was of sycamores. 
A fondness for this tree, shared by Captain Red and my- 
self, had brought us together. It was the most beautiful 
and dependable of all forest growths, he declared. When 
you had to tie up in fog or storm, you looked for a syca- 
more. Its white bark made it easier to find, and its stout 
roots braced it against the pull of the boat; it would never 
let you down or topple over on you. Also, it was the best 
tree to fasten a beacon or daymark upon. 

After the meal we went over the boat and I learned more 
about it. Though no packet, once it carried distinguished 
passengers. President and Mrs. Hoover boarded it at Cin- 
cinnati in midafternoon on a day in October, 1929, spent 
the night upon it, and rode down to Louisville, where the 
President spoke. This climaxed ceremonies dedicating the 
completion of the nine-foot channel from Pittsburgh to 
Cairo. It was the wildest ride the boat had ever known, 
with the waves flinging their spray high up against the 
pilothouse windows. Also, it was a wild time ashore, for 
that was when the stock markets crashed. 

As a lighthouse tender the Greenbrier patrols the rivers, 
and sets up government beacons wherever the petition of 
pilots, verified by its captain and confirmed by headquar- 
ters in St. Louis, shows they are needed. These lights are 


mostly on trees, the trunks of which are painted white to 
enhance visibility. It costs about fifty dollars to install each 
of them. On the five rivers there may be seven hundred. 
All are on private lands. Now and then a property owner 
with a shotgun warns off the government men, but nearly 
always a light is welcomed, for it means a small monthly 
income perhaps twelve dollars for the lamplighter. If he 
sells his land to a neighbor he charges in this additional 
income as part of its value. 

When the Coast Guard service took over, the Ohio 
achieved a new dignity. Once it had only banks, but when 
Stephen Collins Foster lived in Cincinnati he dowered it 
with shores, perhaps because the word has thirty-eight dif- 
ferent rhymes sycamores among them. Now, like the 
Seven Seas, it has coasts. 

Ahead of everything, ahead even of the white trapper, 
was the fur trader. Before there was corn and pork to be 
shipped to New Orleans, canoes and bateaux carried pelts 
and some ginseng up and down the rivers. One Cincinnati 
house, which is nearly as old as the Astor trading posts, 
stands as monument to a legendary traffic. A thriving con- 
cern with wide horizons, its furs going to London, its 
ginseng to China, it is perhaps the saltiest survival along 
the entire Ohio shore of the great days of the packets. 

The veteran head of this house remembers them: days 
when the Public Landing was crowded with barrels of 
brown sugar, kegs of salt, casks of molasses, hogsheads of 
tobacco, bales of cotton, bags of beans, herds of cattle, 
crates of fowls and throngs of travelers, embarking or dis- 
embarking. Passengers always wore their best, and photo- 
graphs of landing scenes from year to year, from decade 
to decade, are like back files of Godey's Lady's Book, a his- 
tory of changing fashions. Sometimes the cobbled slope 

The famous race of the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee. It was one of i 

try's biggest sporting events, and has been recorded in both song and st 

race was from New Orleans to St. Louis, and was won by the Le e, whos 

three days, eighteen hours and fourteen minutes has never been equz 

The Gordon C. Greene at Natchez, Mississippi. She carries a mixed carg 

down both the Mississippi and the Ohio and makes summer and wint< 

which attract passengers who would relive the days of Mark Twai 

Magnolia Hall and the other old homes of Natchez are symbols of hos- 
pitality and with them are associated the names of many famous visitors. 

This tugboat deck man is 
winding the bow towlines 
around the capstan which 
towboats use to make fast 
their barges. 

The river roustabouts con- 
tract to work twenty-four 
hours a day, seven days a 
week. Fortunately, how- 
ever, there are idle mo- 
ments. Here are some of 
them trying their luck at 

Forty years a pilot on the Mississippi and the Ohio, Captain '. 
Brisco has seen life on the rivers change from the reckless, 
mantic days of the packets to the sober, steady freight traffi 
today. Steering with levers, as is done in the modern motorsl 
is a simple matter to this old riverman who has handled the I 
steering wheels of the old-time packets. 

A sternwheeler has 
just passed through 
an Ohio River lock 
which this man is clos- 
ing. There are forty- 
six locks on the Ohio, 
all but two of which 
are at movable dams 
so that there is "open 
river*' down practi- 
callv the whole stream 

To the untrained eye, the loading of a river steamboat seems to 

be the worst kind of confusion. Actually, it is a highly organized 

procedure carried out with efficiency. 


was swathed with sweet odors from down-river molasses 
and up-river dried apples and peaches, sometimes with 
the acrid smells of barnyard and poultry yard creatures. 

Now and then the house would receive an entire steam- 
boat load of dried fruits from the farms along the Big 
Sandy and Little Kanawha. For a while it handled rags des- 
tined for the paper mills that lined the lower stretches of 
the canal which ran from river to lake. Bales of feathers 
came to it. Beeswax, a hundred tons a year, was an in- 
cident in its traffic. Ginseng, to bring up the virility of 
the old men of China, was and is important. There were 
years when the house handled five times the present Amer- 
ican harvest of this strange root. Prices of ginseng have 
varied within memory from twenty-eight dollars a pound 
to thirty-seven cents; the 1940 figure was eight dollars a 

The last time I was at the house, ginseng was not in 
season and only piles of yellowseal worth two dollars a 
pound stood for the pharmacopoeia of the pasture lots. 
All else was raw furs, the odors of which were in every 
room; men who work there grow to like the sharp smell 
of skunkskins, which they say whets one's appetite and 
tones up the system. The pelts handled were of small 
creatures, brought in by trappers, farmers, and farm lads, 
from the surrounding country in the season just ended, 
the skins of three thousand red foxes, five thousand gray 
foxes, five thousand raccoons, and fifteen thousand musk- 
rats. Perhaps there was a feral note in the trapper group, 
an Indian among them, who sat around a stove in the 

Though for the most part rivers follow a narrow way, 
the wide bottom lands on each side belong to them, and 
periodically they assert title by occupancy. That is a flood. 


Little rivers knock things around, big ones merely over- 
flow. In time of flood the Ohio moves rapidly only so long 
as it is within its channel, drift riding by at what seems to 
be packet speed. Thereafter, even while the river rises, it 
flattens out. Its so-called tributaries cease to be tribute- 
bearers and become tribute-takers. For the time being, 
they are bayous. The larger stream sends its overflow water 
into them at least as far as the first riffle, farther if there is 
a real flood. Sometimes it throws its tributaries into pools 
for forty or fifty miles. At such times, little rivers which 
run almost dry in summer would be navigable by steam- 
boats and flatboats, and in the old days these boats were 
upon them. 

The water which backs up into Cincinnati's streets is 
slow water, and that is a saving fact. In the usual flood, 
which comes in the late winter or early spring every two 
or three years, the river rises from pool stage of nine feet 
to flood stage of fifty-two feet and goes on to about sixty 
feet. But the flood which swept in near the end of January, 
iQ37> was not the usual flood. It was twenty feet higher 
than that, putting the waterworks and the power-and-light 
plant out of commission, overturning gasoline tanks in the 
industrial area along Mill Creek, and starting fires which 
threatened a general conflagration. 

Had Cincinnati been a town of the Middle Ages, life, 
outside the inundated area, would have gone on about as 
before. The people of that time used tools, not machines; 
had no power and needed none save their own hands and 
their domestic animals. There were no streetcars or busses, 
and no need of them, for the artisan lived above his own 
shop. Food came from the surrounding countryside, not 
from a distance; and it was the age of wood fires, of candle- 
light. Things being as they were, however, our city was as 


one in war time. Its streets were half deserted, streetcars 
were withdrawn from service, factories idle, theaters 
darkened, schools, shops, and libraries closed, water supply 
sharply rationed, dwellings as faintly lighted after dark as 
if a single candle burned in a single window. 

Even this extraordinary visitation the city took with a 
calmness born of its constant preparedness against inunda- 
tion. But it did one extraordinary thing. Lucius Quinctius 
Cincinnatus, from whom it took its name, was called from 
the plow by the people of Rome in a time of grave peril and 
vested with the rank of dictator a word which means liter- 
ally somebody who tells you what to do; in sixteen days 
he cleaned up, divested himself of his extraordinary 
powers, and was back between the plow handles. By action 
of the Council, the Governor and the President, following 
this ancient pattern in Cincinnati, almost unlimited 
powers were given the City Manager. "It took the Old 
Roman sixteen days to mop up," my newspaper said in 
an editorial at the time. "Perhaps his successor can cut that 
period in two." He did. 

Meanwhile, people on the hilltops lived rather as their 
grandparents did. Thrown on their own resources they 
invoked old skills or devices. With little reading possible 
after nightfall, I learned to play the mouth organ. Lighted 
candles along the halls of homes illumined a corridor into 
the past. After the first rush to buy food, housewives discov- 
ered that it was wasteful of water to wash dishes; the second 
rush was to buy paper plates. Then they cast an eye upon 
the snowbanks in their yards, gathered them in and melted 
them, though not for table uses. Tubs and boilers were set 
out to catch rain water which dripped from eaves. For- 
gotten city springs were remembered again and drawn 
upon. People with relatives or friends in the country folk 


who drink well water made pilgrimages to them laden 
with jugs and glass jars. It was almost a game to see how 
little water the individual could get along with. Coffee or 
tea boiled water, to be sure, but with something else in 
it was drunk instead. Fruit juices had a new vogue. Bath- 
ing was out of course and even washing one's face and 
hands was a sketchy affair. 

Its members are nearly all dead now, but when the 
Grand Army of the Republic held its national encamp- 
ment in Cincinnati in the summer of 1930, they were still 
fairly numerous. One day they went up the river on the 
Island Queen to Point Pleasant, and I went along. It was 
a memorable occasion. The songs of the nation resounded 
from all parts of the boat: "J ust Before the Battle, 
Mother,'* "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are March- 
ing/' and, above all, "Tenting Tonight on the old Camp 
Ground/' Under them was the squeal and crash of a vet- 
erans' fife-and-drum corps. 

Incidents of the river journey were keenly interesting to 
people from New England and particularly the West, 
where most rivers flow between low banks through a plains 
country and only skiffs can navigate them. The amicable 
shores in their framework of hills, the numerous bends, 
the clear, green water moving easily along at a time when 
the flow of other rivers, not locked and dammed, had al- 
most ceased all were commented upon. Whenever the 
boat entered a lock chamber, and mounted to a higher 
level, everybody looked over the rail and asked questions. 

At Point Pleasant the whole population of the country- 
side was waiting on the bank. Disembarking, we wound 
in a long procession up the hill, through the sycamores 
and between corn and tobacco to a plateau. Behind us was 
the worn little village, before us the tranquil Ohio. 


Through a scene, pastoral and yet masterful, the river 
flowed from the revelations of one headland to the mystery 
of the next a ten-mile straightaway. 

What counted with the veterans was that in this little 
village above Cincinnati was born the man under whom 
they had marched to victory in a continent-shaking war. 
The rhythm of those marches beat all unheard in the 
pulses of the small, plainly dressed, unassuming man who 
sought service in recruiting offices where gold braid glit- 
tered and swords clanked, and the power that slept behind 
the quiet gray eyes too long remained unguessed. But 
Grant had had a vision in his Memoirs he admits itand 
the march of hosts was in it. The rise of this undramatic 
country lad to a place where Lincoln could say that he 
"trusted in God and Grant*' is one of America's two great 
romances. The career of Lincoln, born in the neighboring 
state of Kentucky this part of the world was prolific in 
great men is the other. 

Those river pilgrims are nearly all dead now, and 
shadows heavier than the river mists overhang that journey 
to a river shrine. With a tale about Grant's great antagon- 
ist I restore it to the archives of memory. The tale has a 
spectral quality. If the man who told it a volunteer in 
the Thirty-ninth Massachusetts is living now, he is ninety- 

Just after Appomattox he saw Lee riding back to his 
Virginia plantation. For half a mile the young Yankee 
recruit trudged beside the commander of the vanquished 
Confederacy. Erect and sad, the Lost Cause, as embodied 
in the knightly figure of its leader, rode near him, a fellow 

"Did Lee speak to you?'* I asked. 

"Why should he?" was the reply. "I was only a Northern 


soldier. His eyes were on the horizon. I don't think he 

saw me." 

"And you didn't venture to speak to him?" 

"I would as soon have spoken to a ghost. His eyes 

haunted me. When I was stationed in Washington I had 

seen the same sad look on Lincoln's face." 



WE MOVED away from the 

Public Landing at Cincinnati to the farewell strains of 
a calliope. There were six score of us aboard and we were 
headed for the mountains which framed an old American 
dream, or at least we were headed for Pittsburgh, four 
hundred and fifty-seven miles up stream. It was a summer 
night in 1937, and ten o'clock of a Saturday night, which is 
pretty near a river bedtime. However, people stayed up 
for a while to watch the lights of the city, and lights of 
passing towboats reflected in the water. An orchestra was 
at one end of the long cabin, and some of us took time off 
for a few dances under the glittering chandeliers of hob- 
nailed glass, always the proper way to begin a steamboat 
journey. At the other end of the cabin a buffet lunch was 
set cheese, crackers, baked beans, hard-boiled eggs, an- 
chovies, coffee. Everybody descended upon it, for there 
is something in river air which makes you hungry from the 

The next morning found us lying at Maysville on the 
Kentucky shore, so that people so minded could attend an 
early church service ashore an unfailing steamboat custom 
which has much to commend it. When we got under way 
again the traditional routine of a river voyage took shape. 
This seemed to consist of reading, talking, singing, danc- 
ing, and seeking or avoiding the sun or the wind as the 
vigor of either should indicate. In reality, however, it was 
something else. We were watching the pictured shores oi 
the river; one girl from Toledo stayed up all night to dc 



so. The forward decks were like a theater gallery com- 
manding a stage where scenes kept shifting. 

At awaited intervals came the meals, set at small tables 
in the cabin, announced by soft-voiced chimes of many 
tones, served by soft-voiced blacks. 

Between these repasts such sight-seeing went on as only 
a river which rounds another headland every mile or so 
can afford a panorama of wooded or pastured hills and 
bottomlands rich with corn. The wheat harvest was on, 
and it was the Week of Elderberry Blossoms. Sometimes 
we went beside shores perfumed like those of Araby the 
Blest, though with different odors from the elderberry 
bloom, from sweet clover, perhaps from mint crushed by 
the feet of cattle. Songs of birds came from the thickets, 
among them the voice of the killdeer which sings as it 
flies wistful shore songs, all of them. High overhead I saw, 
or thought I saw, three eagles; they are still to be found 
along the upper Ohio. At night there were fireflies, and 
the Summer constellations, low-hanging Scorpio dominant 
among them, and owl voices by the water's edge. 

There was plenty doing on* the river itselfthe mir- 
rored reflection of willow-bordered shores, cascading tor- 
rents flung by the paddle wheels of other craft, silver sheen 
of water going over the dams. Every little while we met 
or overtook a towboat carrying coal, sulphur, structural 
iron, gasoline. Once we had a lively race to reach a lock 
ahead of four such fleets, becalmed by fog in the lower 
pool as we had been. The fourth fleet seemed to slow up 
in sight of the lock to let us pass "good friends of ours/' 
explained Mrs. Mary Greene, mother of Captain Tom. 
Twice we slowed up so as not to send a disastrous wash 
against a fleet of wooden coal boats which were pretty low 
in the water. 


Going around the dams and we went around about 
thirty was a news event. Goods and passengers were taken 
on and off. Some dog always raced aboard for a call on 
the cook. A sign told us that the next pool was "normal" 
and the water in it either rising, falling, or stationary; on 
our trip it varied from about twelve feet to a fraction 
over nine. At Montgomery Island, where a high new dam 
replaces three old ones, the water runs under the wickets 
instead of over them. When we entered the vast lock cham- 
ber and could see naught but the sky overhead, I felt that I 
was in some audience hall of the Pharaohs. 

Farther down on the Kentucky side, we had skirted a 
county which has that rare thing, a horse theater. I may 
have blinked when I entered it the year before. What I 
saw this was at Germantown was a roofed amphitheater 
thronged with more than two thousand spectators. It was 
two stories high and the posts which supported each floor 
and ran quite around the arena made it appear as if every- 
body was sitting in a box. There were more than a hun- 
dred such boxes. I thought of the old-fashioned wooden 
hotels at Saratoga Springs with their spacious courts, on 
which guests looked down from upper windows. More, 
however, I thought of the Bowery Theatre and then of the 
Metropolitan Opera House. Comparison with the latter 
is made with reservations, for the horse theater is even 
older than the Metropolitan, with some slight intimation 
of decrepitude. I sat on bare wood instead of plush, and 
the interior was whitewashed rather than gilded. For the 
arena itself, which was two hundred feet wide, the sky 
was the roof. Except for the track ring it was grassed over. 
On the inner lawn a few Kentucky colonels were con- 
gregated. It seemed to me that this was a Roman amphi- 
theater, although of wood. 


Other Kentucky matters came up in boat conversation, 
including this verbatim report of a Kentucky meal: "Hot 
biscuits, fried chicken, gravy made with cream; slaw, 
pickles, new lima beans, hulled October beans cooked long 
with bacon and hot pepper; squash baked; light mashed 
potatoes, candied sweets; cream and corn; turnips diced 
and buttered; tomatoes sliced and stewed; four preserves 
and jellies; black jam cake, mincemeat pies; coffee, tea, 
milk, and, best of all, old ham, pan gravy ham sliced in 
rather short pieces, browned in hot oven in heavy iron 
skillet, no grease, covered, same time as corn bread." 

As we passed a small but lively Kentucky river town one 
man told how the hotel clerk there sought to interest him 
by showing him around. On the floor of the barroom was 
a dark spot. "Blood," explained the clerk. "That's where 
the barkeeper took a bungstarter and killed a man who 
was shooting wild." In the town they passed a seemly house 
with green shutters. "People in there are blind," said the 
clerk. "Somebody walked in and threw acid on them." 
Riding in the country, the two passed a barn with a pole 
and pulley protruding from the eaves by which hay was 
hauled to the loft. "They hanged a man from that arm 
last fall," said the clerk. 

The strangest tale was that of a Negro soldier, in a 
World War convalescent camp in South Carolina, who 
spoke an unknown tongue and had no English. A lettered 
surgeon discovered that his speech was Highland Scotch 
(Gaelic). It became a camp game to post the black hill- 
billy behind a screen and get officers to guessing what he 
was saying. His story was that he came from a glen in the 
Kentucky Cumberlands near the Tennessee line where 
nothing but Gaelic was spoken. The statement seemed in- 
credible, but officers investigated it and found that the 
sunburnt Scot was telling the truth. 


This was the first trip of the Gordon C. Greene in its 
1937 summer Pittsburgh trade, and therefore something o 
which the towns along the way took due and friendly 
notice. A river artist was aboard with the canoe in which 
he intended to paddle from Pittsburgh back to Cincinnati. 
Another passenger was a girl from an Arizona ranch who 
admitted a wish to take a horseback ride through the 
wildest parts of mountain Kentucky, "where men are men, 
or think they are." Something of a figure was a veteran 
born at Moundsville, West Virginia, eighty-five years be- 
fore. With him the river had been a lifelong passion. He 
lived in the Iowa town of Shenandoah. For twenty years 
he tried to get possession of the old St. Lawrence whistle, 
now on another Greene boat. From a Portsmouth engineer 
he got its double and had it mounted on a Shenandoah 
laundry, from which it can be heard for six miles away. 

From various sources I learned various things. At least 
one of the twenty-four ocean-going vessels built at Marietta 
in the preceding century entered the slave trade. On an 
island two men known respectively as "the Union bully" 
and "the Rebel bully" of Kentucky's Mason County fought 
it out with pistols in the Civil War, while both river 
shores were crowded with spectators; the duel ended the 
way the war did. Below this point in 1897 was a horse ferry, 
its treadwheel driven by blind horses; animals that could 
see would not walk it at all. In high water a floating 
grocery store and a floating notion store used to enter 
Cabin Creek in Kentucky and traffic there. Farther up- 
stream, just back of a government lock, is a hamlet called 
Beavertown, the main industry of which during pro- 
hibition was moonshining. After every raid steamboats did 
a rushing trade bringing up copper washboilers and tubing 
from Bellaire; once, at high water, these (inferentially) 


contraband consignments were put off at the government 
building and passed through to the general store! 

Below Steubenville, at the foot of a high hill on the 
other shore lived the hermit of Brown Island who tended 
two government lights, spoke to nobody, and was glad 
when steamboat men tossed him the Pittsburgh papers. As 
with all hermits, he was supposed to have a hidden hoard. 
Miscreants broke in upon him, killed him, ripped up the 
cabin floor and found nothing. 

Enlarging some record of the Ohio's tributaries which 
I had made elsewhere, on this trip I. saw the mouths of 
the Little Hocking, the Little Kanawha, and the Little 
Muskingum; the mouth of Yellow Creek, on which the 
Indian Logan's family was massacred; the mouth of the 
Beaver, where historic Fort Mclntosh was located, and the 
mouth of the Little Beaver which flows through my natal 
town, and which has become a river-and-rail terminal. 

Captain Greene's mother conducted me on a tour of the 
lower deck, where I saw roustabouts asleep on cots amid the 
bales and boxes of the cargo. This included cereals, coffee, 
soap, kegs of dill pickles, plow handles, oil, automobiles, 
and frames for overstuffed chairs and sofas. A black dog, a 
waif of the January floods, kept guard over all this 
plunder. At Wheeling we took on two carloads of lanterns 
destined for the Louisville and Memphis markets; the 
floods had brought a big demand for lanterns in all the 
river towns. On the way also we loaded seventy tons of 
coal upon our bow, and after that the steamboat, her nose 
a little deeper in water, responded more readily to the 
wheel, and we made eleven miles an hour instead of ten. 

At the salt town of Pomeroy the captain told me that 
until a few years ago he used to freight his boats with its 
product for the Cincinnati packing houses. His father be- 
fore him sometimes played both the merchant and the 


navigator, making a profitif he was lucky on the salt as 
well as on the carrying thereof. This was a common prac- 
tice with captains taking out Kanawha Valley products. 
Boats that followed it and brought butter, eggs, and garden 
truck to the Pittsburgh markets were called huckster boats; 
I saw the last of these, the Liberty, lying dismantled inside 
the Little Kanawha. 

I was entertained by the saga of the little low-water 
packet, Cricket, as confided by its one-time skipper, Cap- 
tain Hughes, now pilot on our boat. Once it brought fifty 
thousand hoop poles from the Kanawha forests to East 
Liverpool to make casks for pottery. When it appeared on 
the Big Sandy with the first calliope to be heard on those 
waters, householders and storekeepers deserted their posts 
and flocked to the banks, and "y u could have robbed 
every place in town." When it carried a hundred tons of 
ice from Catlettsburg to Pikeville, cold weather set in, the 
ice froze into a solid mass inside the boat, and it took days 
to chop it out. 

For various other matters a word must suffice: If the 
air is either ten degrees warmer or colder than the water, 
there is fog. Marietta has a River Museum. Martin's Ferry, 
birthplace of William Dean Howells, celebrated its sesqui- 
centennial in 1937. At Ironton is a steamboat warehouse 
on wheels which can be pulled away from rising water a 
Mississippi River device. We saw the cornfield of unforget- 
table memory, where a packet, traveling blind in fog and 
high water, settled down for good a furlong back from the 
river. Mixed railroad trains which carry freight and pas- 
sengers are "packets" to river men. Every roustabout car- 
ries a spoon not a razor in his hip pocket. 

As we entered the upper reaches of the river, the hills 
grew even higher, the water was a dear green, and boys 
swam along shore and waved to the boat. Women passen- 


gers waved in return, but only to such boys as wore a little 

Until about the last sixty miles, the ride up the river 
is a sort of idyll, something lifted out of the serene Amer- 
ican past, and out of a past more serene and more distant, 
perhaps the age of Theocritus. After that, if you travel the 
remaining stretch, as we did, through the sunset hour and 
on to midnight, it is sheer drama, drama that looks ahead. 
We swept between flaming furnaces under a sky which was 
stained crimson and gold by that master painter, the Age 
of Steel. 

We passed the point where the two rivers meet to form 
the Ohio and, creeping up the Monongahela, moored at a 
wharfboat. At the same moment the St. Paul came in be- 
side us from a moonlight excursion, all lights and music 
and merrymaking. I turned from it to look at the wharf- 
boat lying black and silent. Strange and yet familiar it 
seemed. This was no mere floating warehouse; it was a 
dismantled steamboat, largest stern-wheeler that ever plied 
the rivers, and I had been on it. A whimpering dog was 
tied on the deck of the old Queen City. 



I WAS sitting on the sea wall 

at Cairo asking myself what next, when answer came into 
view on the Mississippi with a band playing and flags flying. 
The packet swung around into the Ohio, nosed through 
its swollen current, made port. I went aboard the Cape 
GirardeaU) sought its whence and whither, and engaged 
passage. The questions were mere formalities. What 
counted was that here was a boat bound for somewhere 
a boat I knew nothing about. Mine was a floating vacation. 
For a fortnight I had been riding various rivers mainly on 
boats which I knew nothing about. One of the rivers was 
three hundred feet underground. My conveyances included 
a big side-wheeler, a small stern-wheeler, a freighter, a 
launch, a market boat and a dredge boat. Like Malory's 
knights of the Round Table I was riding at adventure. 

I had been lucky thus far, and the luck was holding. The 
boat which I had boarded was making a Fourth of July 
week-end run from St. Louis to Cairo and back. In a few 
hours we were going up the Middle Mississippi. 

There are four Mississippis, though boatmen speak of 
but three. The fourth runs from the Falls of St. Anthony, 
traditional head of navigation, four hundred and fifteen 
miles farther up to Leech River, and small steamboats 
have traveled it. Below it in turn are the Upper River, 
which is from the Falls to the mouth of the Missouri; the 
Middle River, which is from the mouth of the Missouri to 
the mouth of the Ohio, and the Lower River, which is 
from the mouth of the Ohio to the Gulf. The Middle Mis- 


sissippi is nearly two hundred miles long. Our boat's course 
covered all save the final fifteen-mile stretch between St. 
Louis and the Missouri's mouth. 

It was good to find myself again one of a numerous com- 
pany in holiday mood and attire. After the first night or 
so of my journey I had had few travel companions, and 
little conversation except as I made it myself with boat- 
men, fishermen, shellers, and sundry natives of Indiana, 
Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. I was rather roughly 
clad, with no luggage save a haversack, for this was in part 
a walking trip. All the rivers were high, sometimes I had to 
walk in mud to get ashore, and the tribute of four states 
was on my shoes. In the well-dressed throng aboard the 
packet, however, this made no point of difference. I met 
friendly people among them those inveterate summer 
travelers, a party of schoolteachers and so far won the 
favor of the captain that he crowded on steam the second 
night and arrived at St Louis ahead of time, which en- 
abled me to catch a train. 

Stopping only now and then, we went up the river, Mis- 
souri to our left, Illinois to our right. Some places I iden- 
tified from a chart. I asked questions about others and 
jotted in my notebook two perhaps inexact statements: 
that a towhead was a young island, a chute a narrow side 
river. A number of the names were intriguing. In succes- 
sion we passed Devils Island, Devils Tea Table, Devils 
Bake Oven and Devils Backbone. I remember Bee Bluff, 
Cat Island, Goose Island, Dogtooth Bend, Owl Creek, 
Turkey Island, Horse Island. Other interesting points were 
Sawmill Hollow, Pulltight Landing, Isle de Bois Creek, 
Salt Point, Sycamore Landing, Mud Landing, White 
Horse, River des Pres, Cabaret Island. Outstanding 
among young islands was the Belle of Memphis Towhead, 
formed by the wreck of the steamboat of that name. 


Though our packet purchased a breeze, the languors of 
summer lay upon either shore. July, it seemed, was no 
month to hold serious debate upon anything. A warm 
wind blew over the meadows. The wheat harvest was a 
golden avalanche, or so we guessed. I was minded of a say- 
ing in one of Virgil's Georgics that the wild bird homes 
are red with berries. Over them was the drift of butter- 
flies, and over the fields the hum of glutted bees, the 
locust's loud loquacities, the jargon of other insects. A 
hawk stooped from a cloud. Jays in motley sounded in 
the woods the notes of carnival. A redbird sang one thing, 
but seemed to be pondering another. With nightfall the 
river shores became a wailing place for the snipe. Those 
pioneers in night life, the owl and the bat, emerged. At 
intervals I heard, or thought I heard, the pleasant sound 
of cattle cropping grass. There seemed to be an African 

So we went along, accepting and appraising the pano- 
rama of sky and shore, bestirring ourselves only when the 
gangplank was lowered. Our first stop was at Cape Girar- 
deau on the Missouri bank fifty miles above Cairo. 
Though a French town with some historical background, 
it has another claim on the traveler. Once it was a head- 
land thrusting out into a now-forgotten ocean. All above 
it was land, all below it was sea; into that sea, and not into 
the Gulf, the Mississippi poured its burden. Salt water re- 
ceded, the great river followed, laying down soil as it went, 
and so built out the continent more than a thousand miles. 
There are other such capes and peninsulas. Not far below 
Cape Girardeau the levees begin, and thenceforth the river 
follows a strange course, running through a groove in a 
sort of ridge, its surface higher, its bed lower, than land 
on either side. 

This was the first of six old French towns, three on each 


side of the river, which we passed on our way upstream. 
All lie within a stretch of a hundred and forty miles, five 
in a stretch of seventy miles. The Middle Mississippi is 
singularly rich in its memorials of French settlement and 
these towns have a rewarding history. They were settled 
from Canada and not from New Orleans because the river 
flows south, expediting navigation in one direction, retard- 
ing it in the other, and affording no navigation for fur- 
laden bateaux except downstream. Half of them were in ex- 
istence when New Orleans was founded in 1718. 

The fur trade brought them into being. In each little 
town arose a trading post, a fort, a mission. Usually the 
mission came first, for the zeal and daring of the Jesuit 
fathers was even greater than that of the voyageurs. Beside 
the church was a convent, around it whitewashed houses 
of cross-timbers and clay. Wayside shrines stood along the 
trails leading to the settlement. Orchards grew up and 
little farms were tilled, but the main occupation of the 
villagers was in hunting and trapping on their own ac- 
count, and buying furs from their wild neighbors. They 
trafficked with them on distant rivers, and every year the 
red men paid them a return visit. These were occasions 
of festivity, for the French understood the savage nature 
perfectly andregardless of any ties overseas strengthened 
the bond between the two races by taking women whom 
they called wives, and begetting broods of half-Indian 

So Kaskaskia, already a village of the Illini, became a 
French town in 1700, nearly a score of years ahead of New 
Orleans; it is the oldest permanent settlement in the Mis- 
sissippi Valley. Cahokia and Fort Chartres became French 
settlements about the same time as New Orleans. Ste. 
Genevieve followed in 1735, St. Louis in 1764, Cape Gifar- 


deau in 1780. The three on the Missouri side have been 
under Spanish as well as French rule. 

All six have had important moments. St. Louis was once 
the capital of Upper Louisiana. Fort Chartres was capita] 
of a province of Louisiana. At Cape Girardeau the Spanish 
established their first government west of the Mississippi 
in 1793. Kaskaskia was the capital of Illinois Territory. 
Kaskaskia and Cahokia were seized by George Rogers 
Clark before he undertook the attack on Vincennes. The 
river has left Ste. Genevieve two miles inland from 
its shore. It did worse things to Kaskaskia. 

After leaving Cape Girardeau, our boat stopped before 
Ste. Genevieve. Cars took us back to the town, and we 
strolled through engaging streets with stucco houses which 
would not have looked out of place in the French Quarter 
of New Orleans. The town has a fine old church, a mu- 
seum, pleasantly redolent memories. The first road west 
of the Mississippi, called Rue Royale by the French and El 
Camino Real by the Spanish, ran through it and on to St. 
Louis in one direction, to New Madrid in the other. 
Though the country west of the river had been Spanish 
since 1762, a French officer established a military post in 
Ste. Genevieve in 1766, for news traveled slowly then, 
particularly when it had to travel upstream. 

Once upon .a time a spring flood came upon Ste. Gene- 
vieve. The pious villagers urged their priest to "pray away 
the water" and pledged themselves to share their crops 
of corn with the church if prayer availed. He waited until 
the waters had become stationary before he assented to the 
bargain. Then his prayers floated over them, and slowly 
they receded, leaving a deposit of fertile soil on the corn- 
land. The villagers had more than an ordinary crop to 
divide with the church. 


When we stopped before one of the French towns I 
forget which the boat's orchestra gave a little concert and 
people came out on the shore to listen. The captain said 
that on longer stops the packet sometimes gave a ball and 
invited villagers aboard to join in the dancing, a survival 
of what once was called "river bank hospitality." In an 
earlier day when steamboats stopped at a landing, Negroes 
would go ashore and carry among the waiting throngs trays 
laden with fried fish, slices of roast beef, grapes, nuts, tropi- 
cal fruits, and ices, all with the captain's compliments 
which was good salesmanship as well as good fellowship. 

A few miles below Cape Girardeau and on the Illinois 
side we passed two other French settlements without paus- 
ing. Fort Chartres, now called Fort Gage, was established 
in 1720 to protect and promote a mining speculation gold 
and lead in the trans-Mississippi region. To this end, two 
hundred white men and a larger number of Negro slaves 
from San Domingo were brought in. The first fort, a 
wooden stockade, was succeeded in 1753 by a massive stone 
fortress with walls and bastions two feet thick, pierced 
with loopholes for muskets and portholes for cannon. An 
English traveler who saw it in 1766 called it the most com- 
modious fort in the country. But against one enemy it had 
no defense. Floods destroyed most of it a few years later, 
and the garrison removed to near-by Kaskaskia. The old 
powderhouse is still standing and the lower courses of the 

Kaskaskia used to lie at the mouth of the Kaskaskia 
River. That river has two chapters, one representative of 
the American story, the other as somber and strange a thing 
as the Great Valley may have known. The waterway is 
perhaps five hundred feet wide at the mouth, and about 
five hundred miles long. In high water small steamboats 
used to ascend it far and bring down corn and wheat. Once 


it was seven miles longer, and in that vanished reach the 
somber chapter was written. 

Though one enters the Mississippi and the other the 
Wabash, the Kaskaskia and Embarras rivers head near each 
other in central Illinois, rather close to the Indiana line. 
Both have names, one Kickapoo and one French, which 
troubled the settlers, and were shortened respectively to 
Okaw and Ambraw. The treeless country between them 
was called the Grand Prairie. Because the marshlands east 
of the Embarras confused travelers on the Vincennes 
Trace, and because the river itself disconcerted them when 
they followed its course, by sometimes sending its head- 
waters across to the Wabash instead of downstream to the 
Mississippi, they gave it a name which means just what it 

In the upper country served by these small rivers, the 
tale of pioneer settlement in the meadow lands just west 
of the Cumberlands was repeated half a century later and 
largely by men who had come from those meadows on 
horseback. They found bear and deer, the panther, the 
wildcat, the timber wolf, the coyote, together with multi- 
tudes of wild turkeys, passenger pigeons, paroquets, and 
prairie chickens. Also they found those common pests of 
the frontier rattlesnakes, copperheads, innumerable mos- 
quitos and horseflies; with whisky and native barks and 
herbs they brewed their own remedies for the afflictions 
which these things brought upon them. 

Along the watercourses grew huge grapevines, berry 
bushes, and all kinds of oak, nut, and sugar trees. Here 
was provender for man and beast, and something more. 
Logs were cut and rolled to the prairie, where they were 
set up into cabins floored with puncheons, roofed with 
clapboards, and finished with doors rived from straight- 
grained, so-called board trees, usually walnut or white oak. 


The doors had wooden latches inside, and a latchstring 
hanging outside; to lock them, settlers merely pulled in the 
string. This was the familiar dwelling of settlers farther 
east, with one or two variations. Instead of stones, the out- 
side chimney was of logs coated with clay, and sometimes 
fireplaces had backs and jambs of clay-encased sods. 

In this rude setting pioneer life wrote a prairie chapter. 
Furniture and utensils followed the primitive pattern; 
three-legged stools, indestructible chairs with hickory-bark 
seats, rag carpets, pewter dishes, wooden piggins, long- 
handled gourds, iron skillets, journey boards for baking 
corn pone; ash hoppers for making lye and soft soap, spin- 
ning wheels, and home-made looms from which came the 
coarse woolen and flaxen fabrics that the women fashioned 
into garments. The men wore buckskin trousers thickets 
and briars demanded this and in winter, caps made of rac- 
coon, fox or wolfskins. Dances were held in the open air; 
corn huskings, spelling bees, and emotional revivals were 
after the pioneer tradition, and at all these gatherings 
singers followed the so-called buckwheat notes of a song- 
book known as Missouri Harmony. Such was life a genera- 
tion before the Civil War on the Second American 

Meanwhile the French town of Kaskaskia, seven miles 
from the river's mouth on a narrow neck of land between 
it and the Mississippi, went its own ways. At first, and long 
before there were upstream settlements, these ways were 
musical with the chants of nuns and morning and evening 
bugle calls from the fort, gay with the uniforms of soldiers, 
the kerchiefs of peasant women, the barred eagle feathers 
and beaded trappings of vermilion-daubed Indian chiefs. 
People lived with little thought of the morrow which was 
rather the custom of Canada-reared French folk. For a 
while things went well. "The village of Notre Dame de 


Cascasquias," said an English traveler in 1770, "is by far 
the most considerable settlement in the Country of the 
Illinois/' In 1778 its inhabitants yielded willingly to 
George Rogers Clark and gave him help in the attack upon 
Vincennes. In 1812 it became the territorial capital of 
Illinois. In 1825 Lafayette paid it a visit. 

So from time to time did the Mississippi River floods. 
The first of record was in 1724, when the town was com- 
pletely submerged. The worst may have been in 1844, 
when the steamboat Indiana carried the nuns and two hun- 
dred citizens from Kaskaskia up to St. Louis; for sixty 
miles the boat navigated the sunken highway, leaving the 
Mississippi far to the left, and the town itself under twenty 
feet of water. The citizens came back, but so, a generation 
later, did the big river, cutting across the cape, seizing the 
last seven miles of its tributary, and then moving in upon 
Kaskaskia itself, which had become an island. By 1898 the 
work was done. When at the end of day our boat swept 
over the drowned town I looked and listened. By rights, 
as duly set forth in all legends of sunken cities, I should 
have seen chancel columns and arches far beneath, and the 
ruined stalls of a market place, and heard the choiring 
nuns and the tumults of a ghostly secular traffic floating up 
through the water. Anyway, I saw a church tower on a new 
island near the farther shore and heard its bell calling. 
There Kaskaskia has risen again. Once it had three thou- 
sand inhabitants. Now it may have a hundred. 

Going on, we saw the noble outlines of the island of 
Grand Tower, and then a range of bluffs bolder perhaps 
than any on the Lower River. At journey's end we tied up 
between two of the six French towns. Cahokia on the 
Illinois side is now just a name on old maps. Yet there 
Clark held the most pictorial of all councils with the sav- 
age nations of the north; there La Salle found an Indian 


village in 1682, and beyond the site are vast mounds which 
carry the tale of continuing settlement into the realm of 
misty conjecture. St. Louis on the Missouri side is a great 
modern city, but when you come to it by packet you seem 
to remember only that it got its start in the raw fur trade 
and that it had been a jumping-off place for everything 



ON THE Middle Mississippi, 

somewhat more often than elsewhere, one meets vessels 
that seem bound for a near-by carnival. They are called 
moonlight boats. What has come to be known as a moon- 
light boat and has had other names for it is as old as 
history is a pleasure craft plying upon inland waters. It is 
neither a packet, a cargo boat, nor a ferry. A packet starts 
at one place and goes to another more than a day's ride 
distant; you can sleep upon it, and you do. A cargo boat 
has also a definite trade and destination; but you cannot 
sleep upon it, the law forbidding it to carry passengers. 
A ferryboat makes short trips to and fro across a river, a 
harbor, or a lake. The moonlight boat simply goes out and 
comes back the same day. It is without a destination and 
without sleeping accommodations except for officers and 
crew. Sometimes it is called a moonlite boat, the bizarre 
spelling meaning nothing more than that it may make day- 
light trips as well as those under the moon. 

The best authentic account of such a boat is in Plutarch. 
What it sets forth is the theme of a historical painting, 
"Embarkation of Cleopatra to Meet Mark Antony/* which, 
a generation or more ago, used to adorn the drop curtains 
of so-called opera houses in small towns of the Middle 
West. The scene is a river in Asiatic Turkey, the time 
about B.C. 41. Antony had summoned Egypt's queen to 
appear before him and answer the accusation that she had 
aided Cassius in the wars against him. She took no account 
of his repeated commands, "and at last, as if in mockery 



of them (it is perhaps John Dryden's translation) she came 
sailing up the Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and 
outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to 
the music of flutes and fifes and harps. . . ." 

On this recital Shakespeare based a glowing passage in 
Antony and Cleopatra: 

The batge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, 

Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold; 

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that 

The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver, 

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made 

The water which they beat to follow faster, 

As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, 

It beggar'd all description: she did lie 

In her pavilion cloth-of-gold of tissue 

O'er-picturing that Venus where we see 

The fancy outwork nature: on each side her 

Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, 

With divers-colour'd fans, whose wind did seem 

To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, 

And what they undid did. 

Long before that meeting, however, moonlight boats 
were upon the waters of the world. Though he does not 
speak of them, one may infer from Herodotus that Babylon 
knew them, and that when Queen Nitocris had a great lake 
made above her capital and caused the swift Euphrates 
to wind so that "the stream might be slacker by reason of 
the number of curves, and the voyage be rendered cir- 
cuitous, and that at the end of the voyage it might be nec- 
essary to skirt the lake and so make a long round," she 
had something more in mind than that enemies approach- 
ing by water would have to come three times within sight 


of Babylon before arriving. A city with smooth lake-and- 
river waters must have had pleasure craft, and the barges 
of queens who pleasured themselves in hanging gardens 
would be upon them. 

When he speaks of Egypt, the Father of History is more 
definite, although a trifle reticent. After an account of a 
king who used captives taken in war to cover the land with 
a network of canals, so that "it is now unfit for either horse 
or carriage," and a description of the great lake of Moeris, 
which he calls "manifestly an artificial excavation," he 
speaks of a smaller lake in the temple precincts at Sais: "On 
this lake the Egyptians represent by night the sufferings of 
Osiris, and this representation they call their Mysteries. 
I know well the whole course of the proceedings in these 
ceremonies, but they shall not pass my lips." 

On the lakes and canals of ancient Egypt and on its 
great river, pleasure craft plied. Of a certain Pharaoh it 
is recited that in the pond in his garden he had a boat 
"manned by twenty women with the most beautiful breasts 
and backs, none of whom had ever borne a child; their 
oars were of ebony and gold, the handles encrusted with 
gold and silver/* At one point, twenty nets were cast over 
the women, while a wooden mummy was carried about 
in a coffin and a slave-poet sang to them. Cleopatra must 
have known of this. Of course she had taken part in the 
immemorial Nile Festival, celebrated every year on a 
summer night, to mark the fructifying embrace of the 
swollen river and panting land and never more madly 
than under later Arab rule when the waterway was alive 
with lanterned boats and women danced on illuminated 
barges while spectator throngs indulged the license of 

One catches glimpses in books of other moonlight fleets: 
the barge of Haroun-al-Raschid in the Thousand and One 


Nights, slipping silently through the dark along the canals 
of Bagdad while with his own eyes and ears the caliph 
learns what his subjects are about; scenes in Chinese cities, 
where innumerable thousands dwell in houseboats on 
rivers or on the Grand Canal, and under the dramas of 
life and love and death there is quiet or flowing water; 
the boats that ply the flower-bordered lakes and canals sur- 
rounding the City of Mexico. 

But here I would speak only of what I know at first 
hand, dismissing all adventures of others with a passing 
note of regret that when I was in Nippon two years ago, 
I was unable to accept the invitation of a Japanese friend 
and spend an evening in his company on the canals of 
Tokyo, with a group of blossom-faced samisen-plucking 
geishas to entertain us. 

I did, however, have a daylight ride in a great canoe 
and in good company down a wild river of Japan. Our 
course was between steep mountain walls clothed with 
cypress trees in which monkeys clambered, and under 
which rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas wrought the 
pageantry of Maytime. At the end of that journey there 
was tea in a waterside villa where eight celebrated Japanese 
poets, who had been before us, had hung their verses on 
its walls. 

In our own country the moonlight boats perform a 
kindred service of sentiment, satisfying in some measure a 
perhaps unconscious wistfulness in the life of river towns 
since the fading of the Steamboat Age. They are to be 
found, though it be only as illuminated flats under tow, on 
the deeper reaches of streams which have long been closed 
to navigation. Hundreds of towns are children of the in- 
land waters. A generation or so ago their activities were 
attuned to the clangor of the side-wheelers. Now they are 


not content to forget altogether the element that brought 
them forth. Though few of their inhabitants have ever 
ridden on a packet, nearly all have taken afternoon and 
evening trips on excursion boats, some of them former 
packets whose staterooms have been ripped out. The towns 
may be hot in midsummer, but there is always a breeze 
on the river, and sunset and moonrise, and the satisfying 
sounds of sighing smokestacks and lapping water. So for 
brief intervals these communities reaffirm their ancient 

All up and down the rivers the annual coming of the 
moonlight boats is awaited. Advance posters with gaudy 
lithographs set the dates, and schools, lodges, political 
groups, and family parties engage passage. When I went 
up the Ohio to Pittsburgh, I saw the St. Paula St. Louis 
boat just pulling out of the Monongahela wharf where 
we made fast. When I went down the Ohio to Louisville 
I saw the Idlewild carrying away a throng of picknickers. 
When I went up the Mississippi to St. Paul, I found an- 
other boat, the Capitol, at our wharf and boarded her for 
a midnight ride. 

The major ports of the excursion craft are Pittsburgh, 
Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, St. Paul, and New Or- 
leans. Five of these cities have daily service in summer, 
one of them, New Orleans, throughout the winter. In both 
spring and fall the boats make trips to the smaller towns. 
Their main range is the Mississippi, and most of them op- 
erate out of St. Louis, chief excursion port of the country. 
At various places along the river I have seen the St. Louis 
boats. Their up-river itineraries include such towns as 
Hannibal, Quincy, Keokuk, Burlington, Davenport, Du- 
buque, Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, Winona, and Red 
Wing. Down river, they stop at Cape Girardeau, Cairo, 
Memphis, Helena, Friars Point, Arkansas City, Greenville, 


Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge, and a few smaller 
ports. The Island Queen of Cincinnati also roves the rivers 
in spring and autumn. 

It takes two crews and a total of a hundred or more 
persons to man one of the boats. These include officers, 
pilots, engineers, firemen, watchmen, deck hands, cooks, 
maids, waiters, musicians, clerks, cashiers, dance floor moni- 
tors, ticket sellers. The men who operate the boats have 
staterooms and living quarters in the texas. When there 
are long stops at the cities, the others live ashore at their 
homes or in family hotels and boardinghouses. 

These excursion boats are the largest and showiest of all 
craft on the rivers. They are very wide, they are longer 
than the average city block, and they have five or more 
decks. Their dancing floors are expertly made, the orches- 
tras competent. White without, their interiors walls, 
booths, stair rails, and counters are in vivid harmonies of 
green, orange, and red. With their flags flying, their cal- 
liopes clamoring, and deck upon deck ablaze with lights 
which are repeated in the river, they lay a spell on the 
night and on the water. 

Nearly three thousand or more persons can be accom- 
modated on any one of them. A mere thousand are almost 
lost in its wide spaces. The largest of them, the new Ad- 
miral, which I saw lying in port at St. Louis, can carry five 
thousand persons. Built all of steel, streamlined and air- 
cooled, it made me think at once of a battleship, the most 
modern type of streetcars, and the fast railroad trains which 
I had seen speeding along both banks of the Upper Missis- 

My moonlight ride out of St. Paul I have had such rides 
out of other cities was on a sister boat, which lay so near 
our packet that I could almost step from one to the other. 
Roy Streckfus, master of the Capitol, and "Buck" Leyhe, 


master of our Golden Eagle, were friends of long standing, 
and the river has a courteous tradition. On another trip 
the packet tied up beside a showboat, which had everybody 
come aboard for its performance. On this trip we were in- 
vited to join some thousands of Minnesota folk and be 
guests for the evening of Captain Roy. We all accepted. 

As slowly the excursion boat drew out from the dock 
and headed down the river, its calliope whooped farewells 
and hundreds of cars answered with their horns. In pro- 
cession they followed us for some miles along the left bank. 
We went through a drawbridge, past the odorous stock- 
yards zone, beside lighted houseboats that in the river's 
mirror seemed of many stories, and then left the city 
behind and moved on between shadowy shores, nor turned 
back until we reached a dam fifteen miles below. A lop- 
sided moon had swung up. Out of the hot night came a 
cool wind. There was a good black orchestra, and most of 
our contingent danced. It was midnight when we trooped 
across to the packet, some to don pajamas and sit for a 
while on the hurricane deck in hope that the wind would 
come upstream. 



I WENT aboard the Golden 

Eagle on a mid-July midafternoon. This was at St. Louis 
in 1940. The waterfront attracted me. There was the wharf- 
boat, long and low, with a dim interior charged with re- 
membered odors of fruits, salt meat, and salt fish, and 
thronged with black-skinned roustabouts-one of the few 
wharfboats left on inland waters. Near it lay the showboat 
Goldenrod, a sign announcing that Adrift in a Great City 
was playing there. Back of the two boats was a paved and 
sloping levee, and beyond it a row of ancient brick build- 
ings. This was authentic river stuff, of about the period of 
Grover Cleveland's first administration. 

The waterfront attracted me still more than St. Louis 
itself. It is a big and rather beautiful city, with a noticeable 
skyline; but people who travel the rivers, though they have 
quite a liking for towns, take big cities for granted. When 
they get to the top of the Hill, as they call the river bank, 
their curiosity may be exhausted. Along the entire navi- 
gable length of the Mississippi, which is more than two 
thousand miles, there is only one exception to this. That 
is New Orleans which, from the very beginning, held forth 
its arms out of the Deep South with such a gesture of be- 
guilement toward the cruder folk of the Northern settle- 
ments that it might almost be said the American flatboat, 
keelboat, broadhorn, and steamboat were invented in order 
to avail of the invitation. In this sense the Creole capital 
created the navigation of the Mississippi. 

There was a little something to be said, however, for our 



port of embarkation that was more in the line o our pecul- 
iar interests, and this I found in a government document. 
St. Louis is the world's greatest market for mules and furs. 
Mules and furs and small towns all are primitive things, 
like flowing water itself, and therefore within the scope of 
one's understanding and sympathies. With a friendly back- 
ward glance I walked through the wharfboat, up the gang- 
plank to the main deck of the packet, and thence up a 
flight of stairs to the purser's office. There quarters were 
assigned me, a black porter carrying my baggage up an- 
other flight of stairs which led from the misnamed boiler 
deck to the well-named hurricane roof. My stateroom was 
in the rear of the texas, which rose from this roof, and so 
near was the room to the stern wheel that its plashings 
lulled my slumbers during the thirteen hundred miles of 
river travel that lay ahead. 

Besides an upper and lower bunk, the room had life- 
belts, two chairs, a corner stand with towels, soap, and a 
basin and pitcher of water and space enough to turn 
around in. It looked snug. I liked it. 

My first chore was to make a tour of the boat. What I 
learned then was eked out later by fragmentary conversa- 
tions with its master, Captain W. H. "Buck" Leyhe, who 
is bluff and friendly but about as tight-lipped as the mus- 
sel shells, miscalled "clams," which are the basis of an im- 
portant river industry. He is quoted as declaring that he 
had read but one book in his life. Although a certain book 
of mine devoted four chapters to an account of a journey 
I had in another boat with him as its master, that was not 
the book he read; but he was good enough to say he had 
heard of it. The captain is tall, burly, and hearty, with a 
voice that would split a gale endwise. He likes to play 
poker with other officers and with passengers; he seems to 
win only now and then. 


For his boat there grew up in me and in my shipmates 
the affection one has for small, competent objects. The 
Golden Eagle had less tonnage than the first steamboat 
that went down the Mississippi* It was only one hundred 
and eighty-five feet long, or, counting the wheel, perhaps 
two hundred and ten feet overall. At the beginning of our 
voyage it drew but four and one-half feet of water. Toward 
the end when its heaping coal bunkers were nearly empty, 
and two pyramids of watermelons had disappeared in table 
onslaughts, it drew just four feet. In high water, save for 
snags and floodgates, it could have navigated most of the 
creeks of the Republic. 

When we stopped for half an hour at the Iowa town of 
Clinton so that a woman passenger could call on a friend 
therethe captain is good-natured to a fault, as the saying 
goes I studied his boat from the shore, and made the men- 
tal note that it looked like a bull pen, a haymow, a caboose, 
and the Siege of Vicksburg all rolled into one. Yet the little 
stern-wheeler rode the waves easily and carried its years 
lightly it was built as a cotton packet at New Orleans in 
1907 and rebuilt some years later and, believe it or not, 
it has been officially acclaimed as the fastest steamboat on 
our rivers; this despite the captain's realistic and humorous 
dissent that it was "just a ten-mile boat," 

It won its deer-horn pennant in 1939, he admitted, by 
racing against time which meant riding down the swollen 
Mississippi in competition with two California boats that 
had to buck the tide on their trips down the San Joaquin 
and Sacramento rivers to the Pageant of the Pacific. The 
winner made one hundred and twenty-eight miles at the 
rate of 13.8 miles an hour, three miles better than either 
rivals record. 

Though I was already hungry when we set forth that is 


what the mere thought of river travel is apt to do to you 
it wanted three hours to dinner. After looking over the 
boat I used the remainder of the time in looking over the 
passengers. The packet was almost crowded. It will carry 
ninety-four first class, and I counted eighty-five fellow pas- 
sengers, somewhat more than half of them female, as older 
boat lists would have put it. The proportion of young men 
and young women was larger than in any of my previous 
river trips; several of the girls were quite pretty, some 
more than that. My favorite, however, was perhaps a little 
old lady from St. Louis, with two sumptuous daughters 
aboard, a streak of amiable cussedness, a conviction that 
young hussies would be going bare-naked next year or soon 
thereafter, and two memories of Cincinnati"the spider- 
legged cars that go up Mt. Adams/* and "that water that 
runs through the town, and does it still run?" By this she 
meant the old canal. 

Passengers came from nine states, nearly all Midwestern 
folk Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri but with 
a few from Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the 
nation's capital. Among them were devotees of river travel 
who had gone everywhere that Eagle Packet boats would 
take them and were making return trips. These included 
former steamboat officials, ex-pilots with their wives and 
children. The great-grandfather of one young man had 
made a fortune in lead at Galena (which is the Latin word 
for lead) and then put his money in packets of which he 
bought or built twenty-two; he sold out and engaged in 
another big river industry, the cutting, rafting, and milling 
of lumber from the white pine forests of the Mississippi's 
northern tributaries. 

Others aboard included an artist, a physician, a patent 
lawyer, a hardware merchant, a philatelist, several school 


teachers, a number of office girls. Getting down to names, 
among the passengers were Captain Sam Smith, St. Louis 
editor; John Fox of the far South, who has had a good deal 
to do with the return of the Upper Mississippi to startlingly 
beautiful life after a quarter century of neglect; for a top 
card, the grandmother of Ducky Medwick's young wife, a 
smart old lady whose verses won a steamboat prize. One 
other shipmate must be noted. With confused recollections 
of "Tugboat Annie," people aboard got to calling her 
Towboat Mabel, though she was quite another sort of 
person a joyous, tireless young brunette who writes up- 
river news for the Waterways Journal. She knows every- 
body on the Mississippi, and towboat captains blow their 
whistles when they pass the pearl-button town of Musca- 
tine, which is her Iowa home. 

All in all, the boat with its boatload was a miniature 
copy of the country, not as of the moment but as of a time 
that seems to have been fairer. "So we went loafing down 
the river," said Huckleberry Finn. The Golden Eagle went 
loafing up the river, at about a ten-mile gait, its passengers 
easygoing, unassuming, comfortable, rather talkative folk. 
Strangers surveyed one another with eyes of casual friendli- 
ness, and after the first meal there were next to no strangers 

Here is a sample introduction: 


"Hello also!" 

"What's your name?" 

"I am Dosia." 

"And what else?" 

"You wouldn't remember anyway." 

And that, as a certain cartoonist would say, was the Be- 
ginning of a Beautiful Friendship, only slightly crimped 
when later the man in the case led the lady out on the 


cabin floor, and discovered that as a dancing teacher she 
was wont to put all men through their paces. 

This brings me up to meals. The cabin was too narrow 
to eat in. Dancing up and down that long narrow passage 
with its white panels and glittering chandeliers was like 
dancing from end to end of one of those old Southern man- 
sions which have a hall running clear through them. So 
passengers ate on deck at dinner and at every meal there- 
after, performing this pleasant but intimate social function 
in sight of people on both shores all the way to St. Pau] 
and back. Long tables were set in the bow, smaller ones or 
both sides. My own was on the port side, which meant thai 
I had the evening sun for dinner. When it dazzled, strip: 
of canvas were pegged up. 

There was fried chicken and a good soup for our firs 
meal, like every meal that followed well cooked and served 
In some respects the packet became a floating chapter o 
the Old South, the veritable South of magnolia blossom 
and moonlight. The Negro help made it so. If I say tha 
their manners were more urbane than those of the whit 
crew, in whom was the bluff heartiness of the West, I nee< 
to add that their manners were also a shade better thaj 
those of the white passengers. They seemed to carry on th 
tradition of servants in the "big house" of ante-bellui 
days. Wearing spotless jackets, greeting persons at thei 
own tables with a flashing smile of welcome, serving thei 
promptly and noiselessly, anticipating their wants^the blac 
waiters transformed every meal into something like a s< 
cial function. The maids were comely creatures, eager t 
please, knowing how, and so dependable that few passei 
gers locked their staterooms when they were on deck. A 
these women took a lively personal interest in the travele 
whose quarters they looked after. When night came, th< 
doffed their blue dresses, put on white, and from the dar 


ened outskirts of the crowd, listened to the concerts, watched 
the merrymaking, and complimented their special charges 
on their singing or dancing. 

I remember the first meal, as the scene of the only acci- 
dent, if you can call it that, of our voyage. I had been 
watching the river with its low green shores and brown 
water reaches, and scanning the western bank so I might 
see where the Missouri came in the end of any river be- 
ing to me an occasion of satisfactory solemnity. At last its 
broad mouth came into view with a turbid current pouring 
from it. I hoped we would not pass too quickly; nor did 
we. There was a sudden shock. The packet quivered, came 
to a stop, and lay motionless for more than half an hour in 
full sight of the Missouri gateway. Nobody knew what was 
wrong. I guessed that a log, what on the Ohio is called a 
"hull inspector," had done an untoward thing to our pad- 
dles and marveled at the placidity of other diners. 

Later I asked the captain. He said the pilot had steered 
a little "high'* whatever that is and grounded the boat 
on a sand bar. This conversation was at Alton where we 
went through the first of twenty-six locks on the Upper 
River, the boat rising a dozen feet to the next pool. All the 
passengers were on the upper deck watching. As at the 
other locks, spectators lined the walls, some of them to 
greet friends aboard. We saw them from two levels, at first 
from far enough below to note how short are the dresses of 
the moment, and again, as the lock chamber filled with 
swirling water, to appraise the quaint pattern of any wom- 
an's hat when you look down upon it. 

In this neighborhood, on the noble Piasa bluffs, I studied 
what, until quarrymen destroyed it, was perhaps the most 
interesting object on the continent. Joliet and Marquette 
in 1673 saw two dragon forms painted on the cliffs, on 
which no Indian dared look long. Each (says Pre Mar- 


quette) was "as large as a calf, with horns on the head like 
a deer, a fearful look, red eyes, bearded like a tiger, the 
face somewhat like a man's, the body covered with scales, 
and the tail so long that it twice makes a turn of the body 
passing over the head and down between the legs, and end- 
ing at last in a fish's tail." Here is evidence that the Dragon 
Myth, the most profound of all creations of the dreaming 
mind of man, was in the New World as well as in the Old. 



IN THE dusk, not long after 

leaving Alton, Illinois, on the opening night of our trip 
up the Mississippi from St. Louis to St. Paul, we passed 
the mouth of the second of the great river tributaries 
whose story had always intrigued me. This was the Illinois. 
It is five hundred miles long. Its mouth, where it comes 
in at Grafton, is about as wide as the Ohio at Cincinnati; 
it is navigable with its canal connections clear to the Great 
Lakes at the port of Chicago, and over it in the last year 
of record more than six hundred steamboat trips, more 
than four thousand barge trips, were taken, tonnage repre- 
senting values in excess of a hundred million dollars. 

Yet this waterway seems to be little remarked, perhaps 
because most large rivers either draw the boundaries of 
states or drain a number of them. The Illinois draws no 
boundaries save those of counties, and beginning and 
ending in one state is by that token a private domain, 
with some quality of seclusion. But I happen to know it. 
Laid end to end with the Mississippi, the two of them are 
about as long as the Missouri. Oddly enough, steamboats 
were on the latter before they were on the Upper Missis- 
sippi, the Lower and Upper Rapids (Des Moines and 
Rock Island) presenting an impediment to navigation 
until canals were built around them. 

Between the lower stretch of the Illinois and the Missis- 
sippi is Calhoun County, one of the few in the Middle 
West without a railroad, the two bordering rivers pro- 
viding haulage for its goods. It is shaped like a banana 



but ought to be shaped like an apple, for its orchards are 
so vast and so burdened in the fall that their cider is 
piped into tankers like those for oil, and taken down river 
to the vinegar factories of Alton. 

Above this apple province is one Pike County. Across 
the Mississippi in Missouri is another. We passed between 
them in the night. John Hay's Pike County Ballads has 
given them a place in American letters. He says he meant 
both of them. As he puts it, "The people of the two Pike 
Counties are very much alike, and they have a dialect 
speech* a point of view and an intellectual attitude in 
common. I have encountered nothing else like it any- 
where." Those points are paraded in six poems written 
when Hay was a young man. The inspiration came in 
church on a hot summer Sunday when a Pike County 
parson who hadn't a trait of humorous perception in his 
make-up, droned out a story substantially the same as 
that in "Little Breeches." 

"As I sat there in the sleepy sultriness of the summer/* 
Hay continues, "I fell to thinking of Pike County methods 
of thought, of what humor a Pike County dialect telling 
of the story would have, and of what impression the story 
itself, as solemnly related by the preacher, would make 
upon the Pike County mind." On the train to New York 
he wrote "Little Breeches." The lilt and swing of a re* 
gional balladry took sudden but transitory hold of him. 
In one week he wrote the six numbers. Then, as he says, 
"There were no more Pike County ballads in me, and 
there never have been any since." His slender collection 
made a stir. Phrases from it were on every tongue. Critics 
saw in it a new and valid literary form. 

Two of the six are likely always to be remembered. 
"Little Breeches" tells the story of a four-year-old boy who 


"chawed terbacker jest to keep his milk-teeth white." Lost 
on the prairie in a wild snowstorm, he was found by his 
father, safe and warm among the lambs in a sheepfold. 
"How did he git thar? Angels." The rustic sire concludes 
that "saving a little child ... is a derned sight better busi- 
ness than loafing around the Throne/' The other memo- 
rable ballad tells of Jim Bludso, engineer of the Prairie 
Belle, who "had one wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill, and 
another one here in Pike." When fire broke out on his 
crazy old packet, he did, as he swore he would: 

"I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank 
Till the last galoot's ashore," 

and died in doing it. 

Hay brought the various Pike Counties into national 
consciousness. There are ten of them, all according to 
legend the abodes of primitive Americans who spend 
much of their lives in 'coon hunting, esteem snake oil as 
a medicine, grow more than their share of sorghum, and 
contend that their log cabins are better ventilated than 
other dwellings. Of Missouri's Pike County two conflict- 
ing reports arose in the Far West: one that its first mi- 
grants were a vagabond folk, "pikers," that is to say okies 
of a preceding century; the other that the word was once 
a term of honor because people from there paid their 
debts, and that sharpers brought it into disrepute by claim- 
ing to hail from Pike County. 

I slept well the first night, breakfasted late, and then 
mingled with fellow travelers. Women were knitting and 
gossiping. Men and women were playing poker, rummy, 
bunco tough names, perhaps, yet innocent pastimes. Peo- 
ple were reading river books. Down in the cocktail lounge, 


if interested, you could hear reports over the air from 
the Chicago Democratic Convention; and this reminded 
me that a dozen years before, while riding on a still smaller 
packet, up the Green River in Kentucky, I had heard the 
Houston Convention place Al Smith in nomination. On 
the hurricane deck young women were taking their first 
sun baths, their skirts pulled well above bare knees, but 
not half so high as on the nine days that followed, when 
the Scourge of Heat descended on the continent. 

For myself, I watched the river. I had heard that its 
current cleared above the Missouri, but it still ran brown 
water, which, however, was less burdened with silt. It was 
broader than the Lower Mississippi. This meant that it 
was shallower, its volume much less than farther down, 
after the Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas and Red- 
major rivers, all of them had entered it. I soon remarked 
the number of great blue herons that haunted it. They 
were nearly always in sight, standing stiltlike on the banks, 
perched on the upper limbs of toppling sycamores, thread- 
ing narrow, canal-like streets of water, winging across wide 
reaches with a heavy assured flight as of freighted argosies. 
With their heads drawn in against their shoulders and 
their long legs stretched straight behind them, their goings 
and comings added an almost archaic touch to the traffic 
of the river. 

They seemed to be border patroons, and with some 
sort of geographical function, and I myself to be upon a 
geographical mission following a long boundary line, 
which set metes and limits to ten states of the Republic. 
There arose the memory of old school geographies. That 
was Missouri on the right bank, Illinois on the left (such 
directions always assume that the traveler is coming down 
the river); other states were to follow. I was unrolling an 


old map and trying to recall physical contours and prin- 
cipal industries of states as I had known them. The river 
cities that lay ahead Quincy, Keokuk, Burlington, Daven- 
port, Rock Island, Dubuque I could recall various items 
about them in the newspapers. I was drawn toward Keo- 
kuk, and for a ridiculous reason. In an opera club which 
put on Victor Herbert's Mademoiselle Modiste, I had 
taken part in a chorus beginning: 

Our Culture Club in Keokuk, 

If you belonged you'd be in luck, 

Our meetings are exclusive and delightful! 

We reached the Missouri town of Hannibal during the 
morning and found busses waiting which took us through 
Mark Twain Land. That was the only place along the 
Upper Mississippi where getting from the water front into 
the town was not a problem. Elsewhere were no streetcar 
connections, no busses, no taxis, no telephones. Davenport 
has a spacious and sightly public landing, and St. Paul 
a small one with some slight sculptural quality. But usu- 
ally we made fast amid horseweeds and ragweeds, or at 
the foot of straggling unpaved trails which angled up the 
benches to the city level. The shore communities, most 
of them, have turned their backs on the Great River which 
begat them, and almost ignore it. 

Instead of the Father of Waters, as the Algonquins 
christened it, let us call the Mississippi the Forgotten 
River. A year ago a new river took its place, of which few 
seem to have heard. It is of almost incredible loveliness. 

Hannibal has a population of twenty thousand, and 
cement works, a limekiln, a large shoe factory; but it is 
known to the outside world only as Mark Twain's boy- 
hood home and the scene of youthful adventures recorded 


in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I saw the small 
house where he lived, every room of it familiar, for a 
movie of some years back was filmed on the spot. Aunt 
Polly's bedroom, the home of Becky Thatcher, the Cave, 
the poetic statue of Tom and Huck on some lark together, 
all are items of tourist interest. In a park far above the 
town, and commanding a great sweep of the Illinois bot- 
toms, is a bronze statue of the author who made Hannibal 
a place of pilgrimage. It pictures him as I remember 
seeing him a few years before his death, with flowing hair 
and mustache, but without an overcoat. Wearing the over- 
coat, and gazing out upon the river with a stern watchful- 
ness, he looked rather like a politician of practical bent 
but responsible quality. On the pedestal was the statement, 
"His religion was humanity." 

Twain's life was perhaps a demonstration of a state- 
ment, I think by Chesterton, that an author's richest mate- 
rials are the harvest of his boyhood experiences. When he 
got too far away from home his first fruits were Innocents 
Abroad, once a humorous classic, but to modern eyes the 
self-portrait of a .raw young Middle Westerner deriding 
what he could not understand. Roughing It, laid in the 
Far West, is far better, for in the crude mining country 
the author was at home* 

His fame rests securely on two river works: Life on the 
Mississippi, which is a travel book, and the novel, Huckle- 
berry Finn. In both the vigorous, joyous, reckless sky- 
larking and extravagantly braggart spirit of a great interior 
region not long past the frontier era finds perhaps an 
ultimate expression. The novel has been called America's 
greatest, and I am not disposed to challenge the judg- 
ment. Satisfying and utterly beguiling is its narrative of 
the runaway lad, drifting down the Mississippi on a raft 


with two uninvited hobo guests, one calling himself the 
"Duke of Bridgewater," the other professing to be "the 
long-lost Dauphin," both collaborating in staging rap- 
scallion shows at the river towns. Like the Odyssey, Huckle- 
berry Finn is a Wandering, and out of wanderings the best 
works of fiction are wrought. That Twain's work, like 
Homer's, takes its characters on a voyage, and has them 
perform strange feats and encounter strange folk ashore, 
is another and a noteworthy parallel. 

About bedtime on the second night of our own quiet 
odyssey, I saw a dim glimmer on the hills upon the Illinois 
side. This was Nauvoo. It may have nine hundred in- 
habitants. There was a time when it had fifteen thousand, 
and was the best-looking and best-managed town in Illi- 
nois, with a handsome temple, wide thoroughfares, smart 
shops. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, made 
it so. A poor white of the Yankee breed, but with the 
blood of ecstatic Puritanism in his veins, he began life 
as a well digger in upstate New York, and by logical 
degrees became a gold digger in a region where people 
believed that the Senecas were descendants of the Ten Lost 
Tribes of Israel. 

It was natural that he should discover, or profess to dis- 
cover, a volume of golden leaves, and the magical Biblical 
spectacles, "Urim and Thummim," by which he could 
translate it. This became the Book of Mormon, based on 
the contention that the Lost Tribes had come to America 
and were a part of its aboriginal population; strange cir- 
cumstance it is that when the Mormons were driven out 
of Nauvoo and trekked west across the Great Plains to 
Utah, they alone, among all the emigrants, were treated 
with uniform kindness by the Indians. 

Smith had so-called visions, one of them ordaining 


polygamy, some of them far-sighted. On Christmas Day 
in 1832 he made a prophecy which began: "Verily thus 
sayeth the Lord concerning the wars that shall shortly 
come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Caro- 
lina . . For behold the Southern States shall be divided 
against the Northern States, then the Southern States shall 
call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain." 
Among other things, Joseph Smith prophesied his own 
death. It came at the hands of a mob in June, 1844, and 
the exodus to Utah followed. 

Though religious and moral motives were avowed by 
the rioters, the thing that set them marching was what 
set the borderers of southwestern Pennsylvania marching 
against the Moravian settlements in eastern Ohio during 
the Revolution: the spectacle of societies more prosperous 
and civilized than their own. Smith's followers were dull* 
witted folk, but his own executive gifts for he was a great 
man and his use of tithes and co-operation gave Nauvoo 
advantages over neighbor communities. So mobs killed 
him and ran his followers out, and now Nauvoo is a dim 
light on the hills and has perhaps nine hundred inhab- 

I close this chapter with the more edifying tale of an- 
other noted American who once commanded a river fort 
farther north, and who was feted rather than mobbed by 
a river town farther south where he lived. Aboard our 
boat I came across a colorful bit of history which carried 
back by a chain of living men almost a century, fetching 
up at the Louisiana cotton plantation of a President of 
the United States, who was also father-in-law of the future 
President of the Confederate States. Captain Buck told it 
as he had it from Captain S. T. Waddlington, pilot on the 
Middle Mississippi, who had it in turn from Captain J. P. 


Drouillard, pilot on the steamboat J. M. White which 
was then in the St. Louis-New Orleans trade. When that 
boat reached Baton Rouge in January 1849, Drouillard 
saw an up-bound packet, loud with bands and gay with 
Bags, waiting there to take Zachary Taylor, popular hero 
of the Mexican War, on his way to Washington and the 
White House. This was all he could remember. 

His slight sketch may be filled in from other sources. 
In procession the people of Baton Rouge escorted the 
President-elect aboard his boat. There he received a call 
from Henry Clay, who was coming down river on a trip to 
New Orleans: the Whig leader was Taylor's picture of a 
great statesman, and his own wife had prayed that the 
party might nominate the Kentuckian instead of Old 
Rough and Ready. Proceeding upstream, the general's 
boat turned off the Mississippi at Cairo, came up the Ohio, 
and stopped at Cincinnati where a grand ball was given 
in his honor. Pretty women hugged and kissed him, as 
indeed women had at other stops on both rivers. Thus 
may have begun an American custom which has never 
been suffered to lapse exercise of an assumed right of 
young women to collect gallant salutations from Old 
Heroes for their memory chests. None of the heroes ever 



DAY by day the commerce of 

the river moved before the eyes of passengers on the 
Golden Eagle as it paddled northward toward St. Paul. 
Ours was the only packet upon it, but often boats of other 
kinds hove into view. Showiest of these were the moon- 
light excursion boats. The sober work of the Mississippi 
was carried on by small, powerful, snub-nosed towboats 
pushing barges filled with grain that was poured into 
them from riverside elevators which somehow looked like 
a child's toy-house but were bigger. A single tow would 
hold as much as six loaded freight trains, and maximum 
tows may have more than a score of barges and a length 
of one thousand two hundred feet, which compares with 
that of de luxe liners on the Atlantic. 

Quietly, without blast of whistles or other fanfare, the 
towboats are doing a carrying trade beyond the capacity 
of whole squadrons of the vanished packets. The timbers 
of the latter lie here and there in weedy boat yards, their 
bells and whistles have been salvaged for other craft, and 
now and then you see what was once a pilothouse doing 
shore duty as a pavilion on some lawn overlooking the 
river. When the railroad, pushing westward, reached the 
Mississippi, its shriller whistle foredoomed the older type 
of river craft. The completeness of their disappearance 
was as amazing as the fullness of their heyday. 

In 1852 there were three thousand steamboat arrivals 
at St. Louis; in 1862 more than a thousand at St. Paul. 
In 1857 two dozen steamboats lay at one time at the 



St. Paul levee. About the same year the total steam ton- 
nage on the Mississippi and its tributaries was claimed 
to be larger than the total steam tonnage c>f Great Britain 
upon the high seas. Now little but the names of the 
thronging river fleets of yesterday remain and you have to 
go to books to learn them. Five, at least, had names 
suggesting our own craft: Little Eagle, Flying Eagle, 
Spread Eagle, Gray Eagle, War Eagle. Other names were 
set forth in rhyming array in an old river song, among 
them Golden Gate and Sucker State; Helen Mar and North 
Star; Pauline, Kate Keen, and Josephine; Wild Boy and 
St. Croix; Gazelle and Mountain Belle. Another group of 
steamboat names was astronomical, these including North 
Star, Saturn, Satellite, Silver Crescent, Eclipse, Equator, 
and Time and Tide. In still others, like Volunteer, Lum- 
berman, Last Chance, Monitor, Brother Jonathan, Smelter, 
and Cyclone, the activities and idiom of the frontier were 

Among random items of river history I was told that 
Chief Winneshiek is buried with his horse on an Iowa 
bluff overlooking the river. The legends of Prairie du 
Chien speak of a French woman who had a dozen hus- 
bands and lived to be a hundred and one years old, and 
of an early citizen who was the first millionaire in all 
the West. The original Pike's Peak is in Iowa near the 
town of McGregor and not in Colorado. It is five hundred 
and forty feet above the Mississippi. The soldier-explorer, 
Zebulon M. Pike, climbed and named both peaks, the 
taller one a year after the other. Sentinel Ridge in Wis- 
consin was the cemetery of some vanished race, whose 
dead look down on the Mississippi from mounds nearly 
six hundred feet above. 

I learned that because of the two great rapids now 


drowned by dams packets on the Upper Mississippi were 
always smaller than those on the Lower; before canals were 
built around the rapids, keelboats were used at times 
to help steamboats through them. On the early wood- 
burning packets passengers went ashore and rambled about 
while billets were taken aboard, which was once every 
three hours. Instead of staterooms there were two tiers 
of bunks on each side of the long cabin, and these were 
curtained off at night a device borrowed from the canal 
boats and loaned to the Pullmans. Whenever boats 
changed owners, they changed names; some have had as 
many names as chronic divorcees. 

Setting down other scattered items, fogs are rarer on 
the Upper Mississippi than on the Ohio. There are two 
hundred and sixteen islands with names, others known 
only by numbers. There are sixty-two sloughs and twenty- 
three towheads. There are twenty-four vehicular bridges 
between St. Louis and St. Paul. There are three hundred 
and fifty-nine crossing lights to steer by between St. Paul 
and Cairo. Away from the steering wheel so the captains 
aver pilots are accounted a dumb generation; yet in 1884 
the British Government engaged four of them from the 
upper river to steer boats along the Nile on the military 
expedition for relief of Chinese Gordon at Khartoum. 

On the way upstream I saw a number of dead fish 
floating on the surface, and I wondered. Then we came 
upon a suction dredgeboat, which was at work above a 
hidden bar and discharging sand, gravel, and turbid water 
on a spoil bank through a long pipe line laid over a fleet 
of pontoons; when fish emerged, their story was told. 
Dredging by suction or by dippers or by clamshell buckets 
goes on somewhere all the time upon every navigable 
river. Wherever a tributary comes in, bars form. After 


high water there is always shoaling, usually on a bend or 
just below or above it, or at the head or foot of islands. 
Islands are notorious bar-breeders, because the narrow 
back-channel is sometimes shorter than the other, and 
water travels faster through it, forming an eddy that de- 
posits sand where it meets the main channel. 

Sluggish, winding channels behind islands perform a 
present service and have a singular historical background. 
They are called sloughs. In them boats lie up when winter 
prisons the Mississippi under a sheet of ice perhaps as far 
down as St. Louis. At Alton Slough sometimes a score of 
craft do their wintering. In summer the sloughs harbor 
houseboats and shanty boats. These we saw also at the 
mouths of tributary rivers such as the St. Croix. In the 
abandoned canals by which boats used to go around the 
Upper and Lower Rapids I noted what seemed to be 
several derelict packets. 

Over some of the sloughs and the backwaters and 
swamps that lead off from them there hangs a fading 
memory and perhaps the ghost of an odor compounded of 
raw whisky and cheap perfume. In their time the sloughs 
were part of one of the nation's frontiers. Lawless men 
have always flocked to the edge of things; but in a mining 
camp, sooner or later, there was law, even if only lynch 
law. It was different in the dubious backwaters of the 
river, for the Mississippi was itself a boundary line be- 
tween states, and men and women whom the law would 
lay its hand upon needed only to cross from one bank to 
the other in order to escape jurisdiction. 

So there came into being the floating dance hall which 
was also a saloon and a brothel. It might be just a pair 
of flatboats joined together and covered with one-story 


buildings, such as Charles Edward Russell saw as a boy at 
Davenport and which, as he recites, had "a generic name 
not to be repeated in print/' Thieves, female harpies, and 
men who would do murder for a meed were aboard these 
floating dives. Their chosen victims were the rude rafts- 
men and lumbermen who at winter's end had come out 
of the valleys of the six great timber rivers in response 
to the primal urges of lust and liquor. Among the victims 
was an occasional town inhabitant of better social rank, 
of the sort that Proverbs characterizes as "a youth devoid 
of understanding." About the only thing to be said for 
the predaceous hosts and hostesses is that they used to 
sing "Buffalo Gals," which is a good song. 

With thicker settlement, the floating resorts, also called 
"love boats," disappeared. They never quite came back, 
but there was something rather like them during prohibi- 
tion, and still moonshine is made in sloughs and swampy 
woods behind some of the islands. Somehow stagnant 
water and righteous living never got along well together. 

To another almost clandestine and yet innocent and 
worthy enterprise I gave some attention. Now and then I 
saw small mussel boats moving along the Mississippi's 
shore or coming out of one of its tributaries. They were 
flat-bottomed, each with a rack over it on which were 
hung two iron bars with a hundred or more stout crow- 
foot hooks suspended by short trot-lines. Mussels lie in 
the mud or gravel of the river's bottom with their valves 
slightly open; they close them tightly when a hook enters, 
and are brought to the surface. So in a sense this industry 
goes on out of sight, seems obscure, and in fact is little 
remarked upon. Yet it is important, because every man 
who has half a dozen shirts and half a dozen suits of under- 


wear in his bureau drawers uses at least a hundred pearl 
buttons a year. These were once the shells of fresh-water 

The fishery is called clamming, or shelling. It is almost 
a monopoly of the Mississippi and its affluents. Mussel 
shells in the rivers draining to the Atlantic can be used 
only for lime stucco, poultry grit, and road metal. Those 
in the Mississippi Valley are worked up into buttons 
which have the luster of pearls. 

Shelling is a profitable business. A single day's catch by 
a sheller on Lake Pepin netted him fifty-four dollars. In 
one year more than fifty million pounds of shells, with a 
value of more than a million dollars, were taken from 
the Mississippi basin and transformed into buttons and 
novelties with a value of about eight million dollars. 
Along the Iowa coast for nearly two hundred miles there 
are button factories, with T^uscatine leading, where the 
industry began half a century ago. I have seen mussel 
shells indeed, I had one from which as many as a dozen 
button blanks had been stamped. 

As a veteran riverman put it to me, the shells go to the 
factories, the meat which is lightly cooked in the process 
of detaching the shells goes to the poultry yard and pig- 
pen, and any pearls are clear profit. These used to be 
marketed under the false name of oriental pearls but now 
carry their own colors. Sometimes they are found as often 
as one to twenty shells, sometimes as rarely as one to a 
hundred thousand. They are known to the trade as true 
pearls, baroques, slugs, and chicken feed. True fresh-water 
pearls are of regular form round, oval, pear-shaped, or 
dewdrop and if lustrous, translucent, and agreeably 
colored, command a good price. In one year, when the 
catch of shells in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes 


region brought the fishermen a million and a quarter 
dollars, the pearls and slugs taken were valued at nearly 
one-tenth that sum. 

Our own boat saluted every craft of consequence which 
it met or overhauled, and was saluted in return. It whis- 
tled also when it approached a bridge, a lock, or a landing. 
Of landings we made few, but in addition to the twenty- 
six locks there were forty-eight bridges to be whistled at 
going and coming. Sometimes these were approached in 
the dead of night and from lonely places, the hollow hoot- 
ing of our whistle echoing from shore to shore, to die 
away at last in deep draws of the hills. It had two tones, 
sounded together for some reason called bells and in 
their blended salutation were notes of both comradeship 
and arrogance; perhaps the word is amiable defiance. 

Until a year or so ago, each river had its own code of 
signals. Now every boat anywhere must give one long 
blast when nearing a bridge with a lift or a draw. Some- 
times it goes under a fixed span; sometimes the middle 
span swings open, or rises vertically; twice there were rail- 
road bridges with a pontoon section that was floated to 
one side while we went through. At the Minnesota town 
of Hastings was a bridge with a quaintly spiral approach, 
cars climbing up and around a sort of tower to reach the 
level that took them to the other bank. 

Each boat had its own signal when blowing for a land- 
ing, this its theme song. Our own signal was one long, two 
shorts, one long and one short. Approaching a lock the 
Golden Eagle conformed to government orders with a long 
blast followed by a short. When it met another boat the 
downstream boat had right of way, sounding one blast if it 
would go to the right, two if to the left. 

In passing locks our boat, in a manner of speaking, was 


on an ascending staircase, climbing three hundred and 
twenty-six feet while it traveled six hundred and fifty-six 
miles between St. Louis and St. Paul. Steps averaged 
twelve feet in height, and each was followed by perhaps 
twenty-five miles of level water; in winter, when ice cov- 
ered the upper river, these reaches might well be called 
long flagstones. At Keokuk the lift was thirty-eight feet, 
and we entered the narrow lock chamber as into the dank 
gloom of the Catacombs. All locks have a uniform length 
of six hundred feet. Usually the gates swung backward, 
but at Quincy they submerged. When they came up again, 
unwary fish came up upon them, and these the shore 
blacks scrambled for. 

When we neared a lock the two landing stages in the 
Mississippi, boats have always had a pair of them rose in 
air to the thunder of windlasses. People greeted friends 
on shore. Mail was handed on and off at the end of a 
bamboo fishing pole. At one place a yellow-haired girl 
baby with a cough was also handed off by her parents 
into the arms of the grandmother, only to be retrieved, 
in restored health, a day or so farther upstream. My lasting 
impression of the locks, however, was that a Mississippi 
pirate would be in bad luck nowadays, for every pool be- 
tween dams was a tight prison from which he could only 
escape overland* 



NEAR the mouth of the 

Illinois and for some distance beyond, and again for about 
two hundred miles below St. Paul, the Mississippi River 
flows between high bluffs which challenged the gaze on 
our way upstream on the Golden Eagle. Few persons seem 
to know much about them. One cannot comprehend them 
by standing upon them and looking down at the water. 
He must get down and look up and keep on looking for 
several days while a boat takes him places. Nobody did 
this for nearly a generation because it could not be done. 
Beltrami, Italian explorer, who went with the Virginia 
in 1823 on the first steamboat trip from St. Louis to St. 
Paulthis I was repeating more than a century later was 
excited by what he saw. His mind, filled with Old World 
images, called up inevitable comparisons. The Piasa Bluff 
made him fancy he was viewing the palaces of Pompey 
and Domitian on a lake near Rome. Farther up the river 
he saw lofty rocks which appeared to be towers, steeples, 
dwellings. I shall call them battlements. The bluffs, 
which are from four hundred to six hundred feet high, 
begin with woodland below and end with woodland above. 
Between these green spaces the naked cliffs rise sheer in 
a semblance of stockades, bastions, and a regular line of 
fortified walls that almost subjugate the imagination into 
accepting them for reality. Any steamboat captain could 
convince a credulous tourist from overseas that these were 
defense works of a forgotten barbarian empire. 


I shall not multiply vain words about them. The battle- 
mented Mississippi in some of its upper reaches has a 
splendor beyond speech. 

The bluffs were always there, and others besides Beltrami 
have described them, though few as well. But the river on 
which they looked is almost unknown to the country. It 
did not resume its ancient estate until two years ago when 
a great series of locks and dams, completed, brought back 
the majesty which may have been its own in some cycle 
of abundant rainfall, when it flowed through unbroken 
forests and only the birchbark canoe of the Indian left 
a tremulous wake on the water. 

Before this transformation was wrought, the Mississippi 
had been like all other American rivers, save those in 
whose lower courses the tides come and go. In turn each 
year it was prince and pauper, moving in the shortest of 
spans from magnificence almost to insignificance. Govern- 
ment reports tell the story. In Christmas week, 1871, there 
was just one foot of water at Cairo, where the Ohio comes 
in. On a day in January, 1931, there was less than four 
feet of water at St. Paul. On the last three days of August, 
this as late as 1934, there were only ten inches at Prairie 
du Chien. At St. Paul, head of navigation, the average 
volume of water in the Mississippi has been only one-tenth 
the maximum volume and the latter two hundred and 
thirty times the minimum volume. There is, or used to be, 
ten times as much water in the river at St. Louis as at 
St. Paul. 

These fantastic contrasts have become ancient history. 
The Des Moines and Rock Island Rapids have disappeared, 
and with them that interesting race of men, the pilots who 
took boats through them. There can still be high water, 
but not very low water. The locks and dams take care of 


that. A dependable channel with a uniform depth of nine 
feet, usually ten or more, runs between the two big cities. 
Only one thing keeps the Upper Mississippi from being 
an all-year-round waterway, as the Ohio is. That is ice. 
For three months of the year, beginning with December, 
it is closed to navigation from St. Louis up. Farther north, 
from Rock Island to St. Paul, it is frozen over in severe 
winters for five months, beginning with November. 

I saw it in summer. Broad, brimming, bank-full, it 
swung between haughty battlements or moved beside 
gently sloping shores, shadowed by oaks, beeches, maples, 
sycamores, willows, now and then a white-armed birch. 
Damming had created numerous islands, all but drowned 
the old wing dams with which it had been sought to con- 
trol the channel, here and there marooned a house and 
barn that once had dry land around them. Through the 
low-lying woods ran long water-streets like canals. On the 
very edge of the river were trees which it had undermined 
and which were destined to topple in and become items 
in the ancient river litany "snags, planters, and sawyers" 
for snagboats to grapple with. Their naked roots were like 
fingers clutching at nothingness. 

This watery wilderness, fair to the eye of man, must 
look good to other creatures. It is alive with fish and fowl. 
In the twilight I saw what may have been sunfish leaping 
at willow flies along the darkening shores. I heard tales 
of big buffalo fish, and catfish the size of small sharks. 
Among other finny tenants of the Mississippi are muskies, 
suckers, wall-eyed pike, red horse, sheepsheads, bluegills, 
crappies, perch, bream, small-mouthed bass, and drumfish. 

Illinois and Iowa are important corn states and the wild 
ducks know it. I remarked a string of islands where con- 
siderable flocks in their fall migrations halt for weeks to 


feed among the shocks. Farther upstream I saw smaller 
flocks winging low over the water. While great blue herons 
were everywhere, only now and then did I observe the 
small green heron which Kentucky folk know as the fly- 
up-the-creek. One wooded island which we passed toward 
dusk was the haunt of black-crowned night heron, thou- 
sands of them nesting there; a few of them were flying in 
and out of the trees. These birds are waders. They like 
marshes and do much of their feeding at night, foraging 
on crayfish, minnows, frogs, and field mice. They have 
shorter necks than the blue heron, larger bodies than 
the ill-named shitepoke. 

I saw one flight of those clamorous creatures, the sand- 
hill cranes; four crows in convocation upon a sand bar; 
a procession of white cranes disappearing down a back 
street of water; a great heron on its nest; tern scouting 
the water; various unidentified fowl which were declared 
to be jacksnipe, this seeming to be an all-inclusive term. 
Once three eagles were noted circling above high crags. 
Later, perhaps in the next township, another eagle crossed 
the river overhead, flying from Wisconsin into Iowa. Still 
later a prairie chicken crossed in the opposite direction. 

Both shores have become game refuges, the government 
taking title to lands flooded by its dams and establishing 
sanctuaries upon them. I was told that timber wolves hide 
in the hills in summer and in winter come down to the 
river to dig out muskrats for tidbits. 

One incidental item of wild life on the Mississippi I 
have yet to record. "They are strongly attracted to light/' 
concludes a printed account of a genus of small creatures 
called Ephemera. Testimony to this came when we entered 
the lock at Keokuk. In the rays of our searchlight I saw 
what seemed to be a golden tapestry. Strange insects were 


in such rapid motion that each appeared to be a maenadic 
procession rather than a single individual. On the south- 
ern shore of Lake Erie they are called Canadian soldiers, 
which is no term of compliment to a northern neighbor. 
Along the Mississippi they are known as willow flies. 
Other names are shad flies, May flies, day flies. Their adult 
life is only for a few hours, or at most a few days, whence 
the name. They are delicate creatures with membranous 
wings, atrophied mouth parts, and a pair of long, slender 
filaments at the end of the abdomen. They cannot bite, 
they do not eat, they do nothing at all but mate and die. 
The eggs, returned to the water, become larvae and pupae, 
and after from one to three years, during which time 
valuable food fishes batten upon them, the survivors come 
to the surface, split their skins, and fly into the night. 

Does light complete the process of emergence? It would 
almost seem so, for on several nights every flash of the 
searchlight brought waves of ephemerids aboard, these 
appearing to rise out of the black river itself. "Whenever 
it happened, passengers took it on the run and all lights 
on deck were doused. At Muscatine I heard that people 
were throwing them off the bridge with snow shovels, 
the bridge approaches so slippery that cars could not travel 
them. On the boat their visits were less of a nuisance 
than ashore and, of course, they were found only in one 
zone of the river. As winged embodiments of the Will to 
Propagate, as frenzied light-worshipers, and as literally 
creatures of an hour, they offered material for edifying 

Viewing a beautiful, interesting, and nearly unknown 
river, I was reminded of a former chapter in its history. 
Just as in the eighteenth century there was a Grand Tour 
which young Englishmen of gentle blood took with their 


tutors along the Rhine, into Italy, and then to France, 
so there was a Fashionable Tour which nineteenth-century 
Americans took on the Mississippi. The artist George 
Catlin gave it a name and its itinerary. It was by steamboat 
to St. Louis, to the Falls of St. Anthony, back to Prairie 
du Chien, and thence on the Wisconsin River to Green 
Bay on Lake Michigan, whence a steamship took pas- 
sengers past the Island of Mackinac, down Lake Huron 
and across Lake Erie to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Fash- 
ionable folk from the East did take this trip from about 
1835 until the Civil War. Steamboat captains used to 
bring Indians aboard for them to gaze at. Luxurious 
passenger boats were built to accommodate the traffic, and 
excursion parties came also from the Ohio and the lower 

With the Mississippi again navigable andsave for the 
absence of pictorial Indians more attractive than before, 
it may well be that with a less rococo name, the Fashiona- 
ble Tour could be revived. 

However, our own tour of the river involved us in a 
paradox. Our jack staff was set on the North Star. It might 
as well have been the Dog Star. The farther north we 
went, the hotter we found it. For the last eight of our ten 
days upstream and back, canicular days all of them, the 
temperatures reported by towns on both banks of the 
Mississippi were around a hundred. The heat wave was 
country wide, as newspapers told us. Because we were in 
motion and upon water, we may have been cooler than 
anybody else; but this is not saying we were cool. The 
prevailing wind was from the southwest, a following wind 
as we went upstream. It was a headwind on our return, 
and that was better. 

The weather is noted because of its effect on steam- 


boat society, society being everywhere largely a matter o 
clothes. All the men went about in shirt sleeves. One o 
two of the younger men, hairy specimens they were 
stripped themselves to the waist, though they wore a littl 
more at meals. Pictorial effects were achieved by younj 
women, and usually on the hurricane deck. They wor< 
shorts and swim suits and sun suits, and naive ensemble 
of halters and bathing trunks, and their slacks might b< 
called breeches of decorum, to borrow perhaps from Bil 
Nye. Nothing save their tresses seemed completely covered 
these often with a red or blue bandana. Their othei 
areas grew browner each day, toward the end approaching 
the quadroon coloring which is every summer girl'i 
summer goala consummation viewed with evident satis 
faction by the sepia-hued stateroom maids. 

There was also steamboat society on the lower deck 
where the roustabouts congregated. Their patois waj 
unique, their patio a cleared space in the bow amid coa 
heaps scarcely blacker than themselves. There they loafed 
gossiped, threw dice, studied the river, now and then bursi 
into song. From the rail above we could watch them. One 
day a large dishpan was filled with water, flour was sifted 
in to make it opaque, and silver quarters, donated by pas- 
sengers, were scattered on the bottom; various roustabouts 
ducking their heads, brought up the coins between then 
teeth not what one would call refined amusement, but ao 
old custom on Mississippi boats. Elsewhere we saw little 
of these primitive, powerfully built folk except when we 
went ashore at night. Then we followed a devious path 
through the boat, in and out among coal bunkers and 
disused cattle pens in a gloom half lighted by the open 
furnace doors and by dim lanterns in the hands of the 


Roustabouts have a pride of calling, a contempt for 
shore blacks, and among themselves a number of social 
ranks based on the nature of their service. At the bottom 
are the hillmen who carry freight on their shoulders. 
Above them in ascending order are the line-carriers who 
make the boat fast, the inside men who determine where 
the freight is to be stored, the freight picker who selects 
the items that are to go off at the next landing, and two 
deck hands who make these ready to put ashore. Often 
one of their number is a clergyman. When our vessel was 
in the regular packet trade, carrying freight as well as 
passengers, it had forty roustabouts. Larger steamboats, 
like the /. M. White, the Robert E. Lee, and the Natchez, 
carried about a hundred. 

Of course, the steamboat's cocktail lounge, downstairs 
in a corner of the lowest deck, did well among a lot of us, 
though demand was for lemonade and beer rather than 
for the strong liquors of which it had a stock. It was a 
cubbyhole with a small bar, two chairs, two tables, two 
leather-covered corner benches, two electric fans. Just back 
of the partition were the engine, coal bunkers, and drip- 
ping paddle wheel of the packet. Yet the lounge, so small 
that a dozen passengers crowded it, had appeal. For one 
thing, it served free lunches at night crackers and cheese 
and thin sausage slices a nostalgic touch that some of us 
valued. It also sold chewing tobacco. On the wall was a 
colored Currier and Ives print, "A Midnight Race on the 
Mississippi," (this between the packets Natchez and 

A curious Cape Cod weatherglass, which had place of 
honor back of the bar, evoked memories of the Yankee 
clippers of the 1 850*8. It was quite like a small glass kettle 


with a slender spout and was partly filled with red water. 
When the water rises slowly to the top of the spout, a 
general storm is approaching, but perhaps a whole day off; 
when it rises rapidly to the top of the spout a local storm 
is coming; when it bubbles out of the spout, that storm is 
very near; when it sinks rapidly below the top of the spout 
during a storm, the worst is almost over. When the water 
holds steady at halfway up the spout, that means clear 

I add a prognostication of my own: When shutters are 
suddenly drawn down over the array of crystal bottles 
and glasses of the bar, that means the boat has halted and 
its gangplank is in touch with shore. Then it is subject to 
state laws instead of federal, and where a vendor's federal 
license costs only twenty-five dollars on a boat in motion, 
state tavern laws charge hundreds of dollars for selling 
goods when boat and bank have so much as a plank be- 
tween them. 

To the hot spell I owe memorable nights on the hurri- 
cane roof. After sunset this was always comfortable and 
there those of us gathered who did not care to play lotto 
or other ship's games on the deck below, or to dance quite 
all the time. I call the hurricane deck the hurricane roof 
because Captain Buck did, and because it makes Walt 
Whitman's line, "I open my scuttle at night and see the 
far-sprinkled systems," fit exactly. Scuttle is defined as "a 
small opening in a vessel's deck," and also as "an opening 
in a roof." Either way the word met our case, though the 
poet was speaking only of a house roof. From the hurri- 
cane deck, with the boat darkened around and below us 
so the pilot could steer through the night, we saw the 
far-sprinkled systems, and divined other systems beyond 


them. It is one of the three best places in the world for 
stargazing, the two others being an upland pasture and 
the seashore. 

There was the full moon to make a wistful pathway 
over the water; but after a night or two it was a sagging 
moon which rose late, so that the stars had the show to 
themselves. The procession of summer constellations across 
the sky's velvety darkness was a matter to see and remem- 
ber. Among them flowed the Milky Way, like the Ocean 
Stream of myth-making geographers who lived a good 
while ago. At intervals stars were falling, and always they 
plunged into the Galaxy. Felicity, I felt, might be defined 
as something to be found on the hurricane deck of a slow- 
moving packet, while stars were falling through the sum- 
mer night and frogs piping, crickets chanting, from shores 
in shadow. 

Once, just before dawn, I went out on deck to see the 
winter constellations come up in the east, the Twins of 
Jove leading the parade. Low in the west the moon was a 
golden wedge. A chill wind was wafted from the willows. 
Forward on the port side of the packet I saw the captain 
nodding in an armchair, and a surge of admiration rose 
within me as I realized that he had been on watch all 
night long. 

Not his the task of finding and following the channel; 
that was the pilot's. But whenever the boat entered a lock, 
its master went into hoarse-throated action, giving the 
megaphoned commands that snubbed his craft against 
the chamber walls and held it securely until the massive 
gates swung open in front and it moved into higher water. 
There were twenty-six locks, and by common report the 
captain a son of the Lower Mississippi and of open water 
-hated them all equally. Yet with almost loving care he 


put his charge through them, not for fear of cracking the 
lock or jamming its gates, but so that no mischief might 
be done the boat's wooden timbers, and none befall the 
folk she carried. 

So we journeyed north, while days followed nights, hills 
advanced and retreated, states came and went. The river 
was at least a mile broad. Its current had cleared, perhaps 
because farmers had ceased plowing between their corn 
rows, and there had been a dry spell. Although the en- 
trance of streams which flowed through red day banks 
usually these were from Wisconsin would trouble its 
waters for a spell, above them it would gleam again in 
long crystal reaches that to the eye were green sometimes, 
sometimes blue. 

On both banks this was good farm country. Drought 
had laid a withering hand on pastures, but the ranks of 
Indian corn, just coming into tassel, stood high and thick. 
Wheat fields, some of them with the grain already cut 
and shocked, had a thrifty look; and is there more engag- 
ing color than the delicate shade of their straw and stub- 
ble? Farm animals sought relief from heat in the river. 
Horses and cattle stood flank deep in water. White hens 
marshaled their broods beside it. Once at milking time I 
saw a shepherd dog round up a herd of half-submerged 
Herefords, and when they were safely headed toward the 
barn, forget all about his task and take a long swim. I 
thought of that dog when I saw girl swimmers, in towns 
too small to afford bathhouses, modestly undressing in 
the willows. 

Wide as was the river, the channel swung from side to 
side crossings, they are called bringing us so near to 
shore that I caught the impudent blue of the jaybird's 
coat in a stretch of woodland, heard in the fields the 


cicada's song to summer, and saw bedizened butterflies 
idling above a painted garden. Always the scent of sweet 
clover was in the air. 

In the evening hour the shore was a haunting thing, 
for then the trees, the sky, and the white, drifting clouds 
all were mirrored in the water, another world coming into 
being with no curse of reality upon it. Here I tested and 
affirmed the singular discovery that the designs and sym- 
metries of the totem pole, and a number of harmonious 
patterns in Aztec and Oriental art, must have come from 
reflections of the shore in clear water as viewed at right 
angles to normal vision. In the gazing glass of the water 
I saw indubitable totem poles loom and pass. 

When I turned my gaze to the shore itself, I saw there 
something which had no harmony of pattern yet did have 
a disturbing semblance of life. Along the Mississippi the 
surviving ranks of what once were great stands of hard- 
wood form a screen which the eye seeks to penetrate as if 
to glimpse what once was behind them. When the pio- 
neers strode westward through the aisles of sunlight and 
shadow, did they take with them racial memories of other 
forests, for ages the abode of nameless fear? Folk lore has 
much to say of these. The strange shapes that trees as- 
sumed, the shadows beneath them, have put a spell on 
the imagination of men. Once upon a time simple words 
but with magic in them-all forests were enchanted. They 
had become a refuge for the peoples of the old mythol- 
ogies. Their witches, giants, gnomes, and goblins were 
degenerate embodiments of Pan, the dryads, the fauns, 
and satyrs. Let one stand for all-the Old Man of the 
Woods, lame, hairy, green-eyed, itinerant, a mocker, mis- 
leader, and seducer; in him were traces of the lame Lem- 


nian, of Wotan the Wanderer, above all of Olympian 

I call up these forest shapes from their sleep in fading 
folk lore, because I seemed to find them along the Missis- 
sippi's shores, wherever the trees came down to the water 
together with others that have no literature and no 
name. My quest began some years before when I was 
going up the Illinois. On the packet was a very old man 
with two tall, handsome daughters, or perhaps grand- 
daughters, for they were not yet of middle age. The three 
kept to themselves and usually talked in some unknown 
tongue which I thought might be Indian, perhaps Choc- 
taw, once the lingua franca of tribes and traders in the 
lower South. I overheard the old man say but one thing 
in English. He said that the trees which overhung the 
river were as shadowy herds of buffalo, or still larger 
creatures, slaking their thirst in the water. 

Ever since I have watched the wooded shores of rivers 
usually with half-closed eyes when passing between them. 
So I did at intervals on a Mississippi voyage of more than 
a thousand miles. Sometimes the shapes that I saw had 
the semblance of dancing figures which swept along the 
bank without heed of the water. More often it seemed as if 
they were under some sorcery that held them back while 
urging them toward it; they were approaching the brink 
but not attaining it, essaying and never achieving, and 
endlessly moving on. Old men leaning on staffs, withered 
crones, girls with sportive feet, wistful priestesses of wood- 
land dubieties these peopled the procession. But there 
were other, stranger and yet recognizably human figures, 
stooped, crouching, with shoulders hunched, antediluvian, 
drawing back affrighted from their own reflections in 


water which still they sought. Among them also were in- 
human shapes rearing snakeheads, shadowy behemoths, 
dragon forms, ghosts of creatures that nature undertook 
to fashion and put aside unfinished. 

As I take it, all the forest folk of legend come out on 
the brink of rivers and are still to be seen there. The lore 
of enchanted woods, grotesque, awesome, yet richly poetic, 
may have had its origin in the minds of men who looked 
upon them from moving water a long time ago. 



ST. PAUL was different as 

we divined before our boat brought us there. Near the 
lower end of the Mississippi, early Americans, in the 
woods or just out of them, found a joyous French city 
with plenty of things to see, and a market in which they 
could exchange their corn, pork, and whisky for the wares 
and luxuries of Europe. Besides, New Orleans was down- 
stream, and loaded flatboats went thither for a generation 
before steamboats became common. At the upper end of 
the navigable Mississippi, when the first steamboat an- 
chored below the Falls of St. Anthony in 1823 a century 
after New Orleans had become a French territorial capital 
the Virginia's passengers found only an Indian village, 
an American fort, and a collection of squatters' huts which 
as late as 1840 was called Pig's Eye. 

This was St. Paul, no outlet to Old World civilization, 
but just an outpost in the unpeopled wilderness; and be- 
sides, it was upstream from the settled country and flat- 
boats go only downstream. Situated at opposite cardinal 
points, the two terminals shaped the growth of steam- 
boating traditions which had cardinal points of difference. 
For the Upper Mississippi I find them nearly all summed 
up in a single pioneer wordredskins. Across the Lower 
Mississippi the Five Civilized Tribes passed into exile; but 
of the Indians upon it only the Natchez, a sun-worshiping 
folk whose howls brought in the day, made any history. 
That was more than two centuries ago. The French at- 



tacked their Louisiana fort and sold the prisoners as slaves 
in the West Indies, survivors taking refuge with other 
tribes. There is now no Natchez nation. On the Upper 
River the Indian saga is far more varied and, o course, 
more recent. Abraham Lincoln men still alive have seen 
him was a captain in the Black Hawk War. 

Slowly this sense of savage backgrounds grew upon me 
as the Golden Eagle moved northward. A multitude of 
musical place- or stream-names suggested it, as well as such 
rugged ones as Keokuk (Watchful Fox), friend of white 
men, whom the Black Hawk party liquidated when it got 
the chance. Such aboriginal appellations as Winnebago, 
Menominee, Maquoketa, and Winona stand up well 
enough beside pioneer names like Whisky Run, Bloody 
Run, Jim Crow Island, Nigger Island, Bad Axe River, 
Hanging Dog Creek, Smallpox Creek, Deadman's Slough, 
and Smoot's Chute. At Rock Island I saw a statue of 
Black Hawk, erected in one of those expiatory moods 
to which the superior race is prone after war with another 
race is ended. At Prairie du Chien, a few miles above the 
mouth of the Wisconsin, we passed what had once been a 
frontier fur town of consequence, with a fort, the memory 
of a gay French society, and a market place where vo- 
yageurs from distant waters and Indians from the woods 
trafficked in whisky, muskets, and skins. 

Near the outset of the nation's contacts with the Missis- 
sippi tribes a steamboat figures. Loaded with American 
troops it ended the Black Hawk War in a battle fought 
in August, 183?, on the Mississippi below the mouth of 
Bad Axe River. The Sacs and Foxes were trying to cross 
the Mississippi in order to return to their reservation in 
Iowa, after a foray in Illinois to revisit lands they still 
regarded as their own. The boat got in between. Black 


Hawk sent it a messenger with a flag of truce, offering to 
give himself up. The flag was fired upon and fighting 
began between the troops on the boat and the Indians on 
the shore. Three hundred of the latter were killed or 
drowned, three hundred more crossed the river during or 
after the fight. Thus accounts were squared for the other 
major incident of the war, when Black Hawk, with forty 
warriors, ambushed and then charged into the open upon 
Isaac Stillman's command of three hundred and forty 
volunteers, who promptly ran away. That battlefield bears 
the appropriate name of Stillman's Run. 

Black Hawk, himself a Sac, fought on the side of the 
British in the War of 1812. As was the case with most 
Indian chiefs, he was fond of the French, respected the 
British but did not like them, and hated the Americans. 
Undoubtedly the Sacs and Foxes, in meetings where much 
whisky flowed, had signed treaties ceding their lands east 
of the Mississippi in return for an annuity, and one of 
these treaties Black Hawk himself signed without grasping 
its full purport. His case may be rested upon two sen- 
tences in his autobiography: "My reason teaches me that 
land cannot be sold . . . Nothing can be sold but such 
things as can be carried away/' It was the Indian tribal 

An industry discovered and first developed by savages 
gave steamboating on the Upper Mississippi a sound eco- 
nomic footing. This was the mining and melting of lead. 
As early as 1810 the Fox Indians, working under a French 
entrepreneur, were melting four hundred thousand pounds 
a year along the Fever River in Illinois, and a few years 
later flatboats began to take it down to St. Louis.[That 
river changed its ill-omened name to Galena, and on it, 
a dozen miles from the mouth, arose the town of Galena, 


Grant's home before the Civil War. It became the lead 

The mines in that valley and in adjacent Wisconsin and 
Iowa had annual yields which reached more than a million 
and a half dollars, or five times the value of the fur trade 
at St. Louis. In a single year there were one hundred and 
seventy-six steamboat arrivals at the Port of Galena. In 
the quarter century from 1823 to 1848 there were three 
hundred and sixty-five different steamboats on the Upper 
Mississippi, two hundred of them largely engaged in 
freighting lead. In the same period more than seven thou- 
sand steamboat trips were made to the lead mines. Now 
lead is taken chiefly from the Rocky Mountains where the 
ores have silver in them; the population of Galena has 
shrunk to less than four thousand and no steamboat 
whistle is heard on its river. 

Besides Sac and Fox, other Indian peoples along the 
Upper Mississippi were the Sioux, Chippewas, Winne- 
bagoes, Menominees, lowas, and Otos. Though now and 
then painted warriors took a shot from the bank at a pass- 
ing steamboat, they were a godsend to navigation. This 
was for more substantial reasons than because tourists 
traveled north to see skin-clad, feather-crested savages and 
to applaud their village dances. Because of the Indian 
populations, there were American forts to mount guard, 
soldiers to man the forts, supplies to be taken to the 
soldiers, annuities to the Indians, delegations of Indian 
chiefs to be brought to Washington to consult the Great 
White Father, and mass movements of savages to councils 
where treaties were to be signed, or to new hunting 
grounds farther west. All these tasks called for steamboats. 

The posts where troops were stationed were Fort Madi- 
son, Fort Clarke, and Fort Atkinson in Iowa; Fort Ed- 


wards below the Lower Rapids; Fort Armstrong below the 
Upper Rapids; Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien (both 
Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis were officers there); 
Fort Winnebago on the Wisconsin; Fort Ridgely, Fort 
Ripley, and Fort St. Anthony in Minnesota, the latter now 
Fort Snelling, at the junction of the Minnesota and Missis- 
sippi in St. Paul. From the river at Rock Island I saw Fort 
Armstrong, a small log blockhouse on a bluff with ancient 
cannon pointed over the water. In the military reserva- 
tion of Fort Snelling I saw the round stone keep built in 

Though there was a violent Sioux uprising during the 
Civil War, and eight hundred white settlers along the 
upper reaches of the Minnesota River lost their lives in it, 
none of these forts seems ever to have been attacked. Yet 
in time of peace steamboats sometimes had more revenue 
from the transport of soldiers and their supplies to the 
army posts than from their passenger business. The annu- 
ities to Indians, always in the form of goods brought up 
from St. Louis, were a major freight item. In 1844 the 
value of goods for the Winnebagoes alone was nearly one 
hundred thousand dollars. 

Perhaps the most engaging chapter in the story of the 
steamboat concerns the dealings of government with the 
rude nations of the North. After their first alarms had 
subsided the Indians manifested a pronounced liking for 
the ease and comforts of steamboat travel. It was policy 
to keep them in friendly mood and to impress them with 
the power of the nation whose wards they were. What 
would now be called good-will trips by water were ar- 
ranged for them. Sometimes large parties were taken down 
the Missouri and up the Mississippi to powwows called 
to compose tribal quarrels. 


When the Winnebagoes removed to Crow Wing River 
in 1848, two thousand had a steamboat ride of a hundred 
miles north to St. Paul. It was alleged that many paddled 
back and for a second time were taken up the river. Some 
years afterward a number of their nation in Minnesota, 
who were to be removed to Nebraska, refused to go over- 
land. So the government took them by "fire canoe" down 
the Minnesota and Mississippi and up the Missouri River 
a trip nearly ten times as far. Petersen's account, based 
on old newspaper files, of the policy of shaping Public 
Relations with Savages by using steamboat techniques is 
good reading. 

~* There were other chapters in upper river steamboating: 
the fur trade, which more than a century ago was worth a 
million dollars a year to St. Louis, its capital; the ferrying 
of westward-bound American emigrants across the Missis- 
sippi; the carrying of troops to Civil War battlefields; the 
movement of wheat downstream as Scandinavian farm folk 
made themselves new homes in the Northwest; growing 
excursion and tourist traffic. River trade was a vivid thing, 
prosperous, and acclaimed at the head of navigation. The 
arrival in spring of the first boat at St. Paul was eagerly 
awaited, publicly celebrated, rewarded by free dockage for 
that season. 

Boats that reached there had to come up a singular lake, 
half a day's ride below. It took our boat the better part of 
three hours to navigate it. Lake Pepin is named from some 
unidentified Frenchman, certainly not from Pepin the 
Short, bastard son of Charles Martel and sire of Charle- 
magne. Twenty-five miles long and in places nearly four 
miles wide, it is larger than most of New York's Finger 
Lakes, far larger than Itasca, titular source of the Missis- 
sippi. Unlike many so-called lakes which have collected 


behind dams, it is nature's handiwork. Here and nowhere 
else, instead of swinging from a bluff on one shore to a 
bluff miles downstream on the other, the Upper River fills 
all the space between its barrier crags. 

Long I gazed upon this lake while sitting at the evening 
meal on deck. So wide it seemed that almost I could have 
fancied myself on a bay of Huron. The shows of sunset 
were on the water, the far-off wooded banks were good to 
see. Yet the captain was wary and watched the weather, for 
the other name of Pepin is Lake of Tears. Flat-bottomed, 
light-draught steamboats with freeboards rising only a foot 
or so above the water were made to move on rivers where 
wind and wave can get no running start, and in heavy gales 
boats can make for the willows, seldom more than a pair of 
furlongs distant. Sometimes in rough weather, lake waves 
are a dozen feet high and there are no natural harbors 
where boats can put in. To meet that lack the government 
has built two wind havens where they can seek refuge. Not 
always have they found it or ridden out the storms. Half a 
century ago the excursion steamer Sea Wing capsized with 
two hundred passengers aboard, and ninety-seven of them 
were drowned. In another storm a packet lost its chimneys. 
In another, a side-wheeler was thrown clear on its beam- 
ends, one of the wheels revolving in air; but somehow it 
righted itself. Still other and minor and seemingly unre- 
corded wrecks have given the basin the name of a grave- 

In days when steamboating was at its height Lake Pepin 
retarded the opening of spring navigation. 1 When the ice 
broke along the Lower River reaches every packet loaded 
up with passengers and freight and headed for St. Paul. In 
the lake, ice held for a week or fortnight longer than in the 
1 Petersen's Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, p. 451 et seq. 


river at either end of it. Sometimes as many as a score of 
packets, with thousands of persons aboard, lay at the foot 
of Pepin, waiting for the ice to go out. There are tales of 
passengers helping to chop a channel through it, of other 
passengers who walked ashore over the ice and on to Red 
Wing, where packets from the Minnesota River carried 
them to St. Paul ahead of the boats on which they had first 
taken passage. 

In 1854 the first railroad reached the Mississippi. By 
1860 seven of its ports had rail connections with the At- 
lantic seaboard. By 1867 St. Paul itself was thus linked with 
the Great Lakes. Until the seventies all this helped steam- 
boating, for there was no north-and-south railroad line be- 
tween St. Louis and St. Paul, and immigrants brought to 
river ports had to complete their journey by boat. By 1890, 
however, the Mississippi packets generally had succumbed 
to railroad competition for the freight and passenger trade. 

Another river institution began to dwindle at about the 
same time. I had rather expected to find rafts on the Upper 
Mississippi, which for seventy years before and for nearly 
seven hundred miles had presented a panorama of floating 
logs. I saw none, nor along the Great River did I see any 
signs of the prostrated forests of which I had read. Hard- 
woods and not pines frame it, the second growth looking 
about as well as virgin timber. Until near the end of those 
seventy years nothing but white pine logs came down the 
Mississippi, and the big woods where they grew were back 
upon tributary rivers. 

White pine had the call everywhere from the very be- 
ginning of American settlement. Pioneers made their log 
huts out of whatever trees were near at hand, yet chose 
white pine when they could get it. When sawmills came in, 
these worked up nothing else. The pines had straight 
trunks; their soft wood yielded readily to the axe, and was 


easily sawed into planks and boards. When the forests of 
Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin were felled, their 
maple and birch trees were left standing. Later, lumber- 
men turned to the yellow pine and cypress of the South 
and to hardwoods everywhere for vehicles, implements, 
doors, pianos, furniture. But as long as the white pine trees 
of the Northern forests lasted, it was their dedicated service 
to make homes for the children of men. 

Lumbering began in the Upper Mississippi region in 
1824,* reached a peak in 1892, and declined rapidly there- 
after, the last raft of consequence coming down the river 
in 1915. The white pine woods were on the Mississippi far 
above the Falls of St. Anthony; on the Wisconsin, Black, 
and Chippewa, all Wisconsin rivers; on the Minnesota in 
Minnesota, and on the St. Croix which is both a Wisconsin 
and a Minnesota waterway. Down them in spring the logs 
floated. They were cut in winter by men who lived crudely 
but comfortably in large camps. The camps took pride in 
the quantities of wholesome food which they set on their 
tables, in the skill of their cooks, particularly in the ritual 
of the bean-pot. 

These camps touched the world of letters at one point, 
enriching with their own hilarities the forest saga of Paul 
Bunyan, wonder-working foreman first talked about in the 
bunkhouses of New England and Canada; the amiable 
giant who moved in a world of strange creatures like the 
tote-road shagamaw, the splinter cat, and the gumberoo 
which explodes when too near a campfire. Of the man him- 
self there are so many guessesone that his name is a cor- 
ruption of Paul Bonhomme, a French Canadian that I 
venture another. Before the legend was current in print, 
I read in some old book the tale of a grotesque Algonquian 
god, who wrought marvels and had a name resembling 

Russell's A-Rafting on the Mi$sissip. 


Paul Bunyan's. If my surmise be correct Paul is just an- 
other Olympian. 

By creeks and tote-roads and skidways, logs reached the 
timber rivers and were swept down their swollen current. 
Some went to sawmills that sprang up in all the towns on 
the Upper Mississippi. Others went to anchored booms 
where they were made up into rafts that might be a quar- 
ter of a mile long and a hundred yards wide, while draw- 
ing but a foot and a half of water. These were destined for 
mills in the big towns farther down. Crews of a score or 
more of lumberjacks, housed in rude shanties upon the 
rafts, manned the sweeps that kept them in their course. 
The capricious, island-fretted reaches of the river chal- 
lenged the skill of pilots whose task it was to see that their 
wooden flotillas did not run aground in the chutes, or suc- 
cumb to wild water in the Upper and Lower Rapids, or 
jam up and go to pieces on towheads. 

The pilots were highly paid and proud of their calling 
this proclaimed by uniforms in which slouch hats, red 
shirts with black silk cravats, and sometimes black gloves, 
were featured. As for their crews, a saying which I had 
heard on the Cumberland that the beard of a raftsman 
would turn a razor's edge-tells nearly all that needs to be 
told. It has been said that the whisky they drank would 
take the hair from a buffalo hide. Disturbers of the peace 
of towns where they stopped, terrorizers of the steamboats 
on which they took return passage, unruly, reckless, vio- 
lent, and yet useful servants of the time, their story re- 
peated the earlier saga of flatboatmen on the Lower River. 

If their wild ways need the palliatory word, and if the 
tale of the pineries of three states, ravaged without thought 
of the morrow, calls for exculpation, both are to be sought 
and in a measure to be found on the prairies and treeless 
plains beyond the Mississippi. Gone are the sod houses, 


those singular mimicries of log cabin modek farther east* 
In their place are sightly and substantial frame dwellings, 
millions of them, with their attendant barns, and wagon 
sheds, and corn cribs, and trellises for summer flowers- 
legacies all of the Northern woods. 



BOAT stores have the tang of 

yesterdays, an atmosphere of sagacious leisure, a nondescript 
assortment of commodities. Each is at once a rendezvous 
for river folk and a museum of waterside history. Men who 
run them must do so more for love of their calling than for 
profits. Such establishments are becoming scarce. I saw one 
at the Illinois town of Quincy when our packet lay there 
for an hour on its trip to St. Paul. It was near the river, 
back of a good paved landing at the foot of a steep street 
which led up into the town; near-by in an island chute 
were numerous craft. 

This was Quincy's oldest store. It was built of logs in 
1822 as a trading post. The logs are still there, but under 
plaster. On the inner walls was the proprietor's collection 
of old steamboat pictures. On floors and counters were an- 
chors, oars, fishing rods and reels, chains, lead lines, ropes 
and cordage, oakum, calking chisels and mallets, stocks of 
steamboat groceries. A boat store is a country store of 
about 1885 gone river-minded. 

On the Iowa side and farther up, at another stop of the 
Golden Eagle, I dropped into an old river hotel near the 
water front of Davenport. A long, neat, three-story edifice 
with an office that ran its entire length, it breathed a wel- 
come for whoever follows the Mississippi. The proprietor 
remembered days when steamboat captains were his patrons. 
He said that his wife had been a passenger on the last trip 
of the last Diamond Jo boat from St. Paul to St. Louis, and 
that, he thought, might be thirty-eight years ago. A party 


of New Yorkers had come on for the occasion. I sat there 
for a while to get on terms with this venerable and re- 
spectable hostelry. It had good wooden chairs and writing 
desks, a coffee room, a barber shop, a swinging door with 
the sign "Gents" upon it, hanging maps of the United 
States and of Iowa, and elsewhere on the cream-tinted walls 
a large and ancient steel engraving in a gilt frame with the 
legend, "Washington and His Generals." There must have 
been forty of them, and all in full-dress uniform* 

I pondered these generals, and then raised the case of 
captains, of whom the river remembers a good deal more. 
"In the old days," said a man who knew, "a steamboat cap- 
tain had a public standing and a prestige hard to realize 
now or to define." 

"Like a mayor," I suggested. 

"Better than that." 

"Like a general?" 

"Different from that." 

"Well, what then?" 

"More like a bishop, but with some difference in vocab- 

Except in one or two instances the chief towns of the 
states, along the borders of which we traveled, were on the 
river. Usually a smaller river came in beside them, though 
small, it might be, only in comparison with the Father of 
Waters. The Missouri, Illinois, Des Moines, Wisconsin, 
and Minnesota are all longer than the Hudson, but far 
from as wide or deep. Whatever their size, tributary streams 
have always engrossed me more than the towns that guarded 
their mouths. In the long view, the confluences of rivers 
have significances surpassing what men build beside them. 

The backward view of those that enter the Mississippi 
opens vistas in American history. Where they came in, the 
frontier forts were located. So were trading posts; among 


others, at the mouths of the Iowa, Des Moines, Skunk, 
Fever, Wisconsin, Chippewa, and Minnesota Rivers; some- 
times also, as at the Falls of the St. Croix, they were located 
where a river fell far and canoes had to follow a portage 
path to reach calm water above or below. Down these tribu- 
tary streams came the stuffs of the forest and plainspelts 
of beaver, bear, deer, and buffalo. Every trading post was 
the scene of wild and motley gatherings between red hunt- 
ers and white trappers. Yet, though liquor flowed, there 
were few bloody brawls, for the heads of posts were often 
connected by marriage or what passed for it with the In- 
dian chiefs. A social institution which in the Southeastern 
states had given the tribes for leaders half-breed Scotchmen 
like Osceola and John Ross, and which still flourishes at 
the wilderness camps of the great Canadian fur companies, 
made for peace at the trading posts of the Northwest. Be- 
sides, the truce that is over all market places was upon 

Most appealing to me of tributaries above the Missouri 
was the Wisconsin, in some part because the trading post 
of Prairie du Chien at its mouth has had the most colorful 
history; in greater part because along the river ran an old 
highway of trade between the Great Lakes and the Mis- 
sissippi. Indian canoes came across Lake Michigan to the 
head of Green Bay, went up the Fox River, and were car- 
ried over a portage to the upper Wisconsin, where they 
took water again for a trip that ended at St. Louis; thence 
bateaux bore their burden of pelts to New Orleans. Keel- 
boats filled with American soldiers took the same route to 
the Mississippi later on an exploring expedition. For a 
while furs from the Upper Mississippi went east upon it: 
but the keelboats suffered such damage from snags and 
sand bars and over the rough ways of the portage that they 
made St. Louis their sole destination. 


Once there were steamboats on the Wisconsin. A stand- 
ard atlas says that it is "navigable to Portage (a distance of 
two hundred miles), where a canal prolongs navigation to 
the waters of the northern Fox River." So once was the 
case, but the latest report of the Army Chief of Engineers 
makes no note of commercial navigation upon it. 

There is, however, commercial navigation on the Rock 
River, another water route between the Great Lakes and 
the Father of Waters. This river feeds the Hennepin 
Canal, and on its lower reaches becomes part of it. The 
canal leaves the Illinois at Great Bend and enters the 
Mississippi at Rock Island. There are thirty-two small 
locks upon it, the channel at low water is six feet deep, 
and through it, between the Mississippi and Chicago, 
towboats and barges pass in 1938 five steamers and two 
hundred and thirty-four barges. Some seventy miles long, 
it is the only considerable canal that has been built in 
the country since railways reached the Mississippi, When 
the first steamboat went up Rock River in 1836, every 
place which it passed gave the captain a town lot. A few 
years before that time the largest village of the Sacs was 
near the river's mouth. 

The St. Croix, which for a hundred miles forms the 
boundary between Wisconsin and Minnesota, also has 
commercial navigation. Steamboats were on it early, and 
after a lapse of nearly a decade returned to it in 1929. 
There is a nine-foot channel from its mouth to the Falls 
or Dalles fifty miles above; upon it in 1938 there was a 
tonnage valued at nearly six hundred thousand dollars, 
the cargoes including vehicles, cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, 
and logs. Half a century ago it was one of the six great 
timber rivers. 

Though De Tocqueville said that the Mississippi had 


fifty-seven large, navigable tributaries, I have named here 
the only two above the Missouri and Illinois that steam- 
boats can enter. There was once a number of others. On 
high water hundreds of Sioux were brought down the 
Minnesota to Fort Snelling after the 1862 uprising; now 
there are only two feet of mean low water in the channel 
and there has been no commerce since 1920. There is one 
lock but no boatable water on the Galena, once thronged 
with packets. Steamboats used to go up the Des Moines 
(River of the Monks) as far as Iowa's capital; they could 
not now if they would. They can no longer go up the 

Nor can they go up or down the Red River of the 
North, though, according to the books, it is navigable 
from Grand Forks in North Dakota to its mouth in 
Canada. I had always wondered, but had never taken the 
trouble to find out, why the government pilot regulations 
as framed certificates in the cabins of various boats ap- 
prised me should group the Mississippi and its tributaries 
with the Red River of the North. The Mississippi formed 
part of the eastern boundary of Minnesota while the Red 
River formed most of Minnesota's western boundary, and 
they followed parallel courses in opposite directions hun- 
dreds of miles apart. One discharged its waters into the 
Gulf of Mexico, the other eventually into Hudson Bay 
by way of Lake Winnipeg. 

I learned on this cruise that they are connected by way 
of Lake Traverse and the Minnesota River. At high water 
it is asserted that small boats can still pass from the Red 
to the Upper Mississippi. Before there were steamboats 
on the latter, mackinaw boats laden with provisions made 
trips from Prairie du Chien, up the Mississippi to the 
Minnesota, up the Minnesota to its source, and thence 
though by portage to waters entering Red River and on 


into Canada to the new Scotch settlement at Winnipeg. 
Supplies, however, were usually sent in oxcarts from the 
head of navigation on the Minnesota to the head of navi- 
gation on Red River at Grand Forks, and thence by small 
steamboats to their destination. The long processions of 
Red River oxcarts made a great name in history. With 
their creaking cartwheels they also made a great noise 
upon the prairie. 

Smaller rivers were navigable at flood, as indeed were 
many creeks, for some of the early steamboats drew less 
than two feet. These streams have their own stories of 
canoe and flatboat traffic and still other claims to atten- 
tion. There are waterfalls and picturesque gorges upon 
nearly all of them. Below the mouth of Bad Axe River the 
Black Hawk War was ended in battle. Near the mouth 
of the Iowa, white men Marquette and Joliet in 1673 
first saw red men on the Upper Mississippi, and there an- 
nuities for Sacs and Foxes used to be delivered. At the 
mouth of the Yellow River in Wisconsin stood Painted 
Rock, which Indians held in awe and each year adorned 
with a fresh coat of red and yellow. Two other small rivers, 
both in Iowa, have names to be noted: Wapsipinicon, 
which contrives to be at once ludicrous and melodious, 
and Skunk, perhaps the only case among river names 
where the French term Bite Puante sounds no better 
than the English equivalent. 

For rivers which are called navigable but which are 
not, the explanation is that few, except those on which the 
tides range, remain navigable of their own accord. Bars 
form, trees fall in, boats snag and sink, bridges are built 
which no steamboat can get under. Falling trees call for a 
never-ending campaign. The records of the Army En- 
gineer Corps tell the story. On the Mississippi I note that 
in one year, near the beginning of the century, "about 


thirty-four thousand snags, etc., were removed." Other 
items tell of pulling trees back by the hundreds, of felling 
leaning trees by the thousands, of clearing away wrecks 
and stumps and logs. This flotsam and jetsam the snag- 
boats used to cut into firewood lengths so that it should 
trouble no more and pile on the banks for neighboring 
farmers to carry off. By such campaigns the army engineers 
can make any stream navigable, but this they do only 
when it is worth while. 

Let alone, rivers return to a canoe past. What it means 
to arrest the trend on a large river is set forth in a striking 
passage in The Oregon Trail, in which Parkman records 
his descent (1846) of the Missouri, which he had ascended 
in high water: "It was fallen very low, and all the secrets 
of its treacherous shallows were exposed to view. It was 
frightful to see the dead and broken trees, thick-set as a 
military abatis, firmly imbedded in the sand, and all point- 
ing downstream, ready to impale any unhappy steamboat 
that at high water should pass over that dangerous 

In the Sioux tongue the Minnesota River, which I 
glimpsed at journey's end, is "sky-tinted water." So was 
the Mississippi as we swept through the sunset hour of the 
last day upbound. I had seen the same spectacle on the 
Dakota prairies and on the Great Lakes. Mark Twain 
called the region Sunset Land. Day dies haughtily and yet 
tenderly and very slowly, and after its rich colors have 
faded out of the sky they deepen in the river and for a 
while hold dominion there. We who were pilgrims upon 
it could tilt the golden bowl of sunset and find it good 
to the last drop. 

Then the curtain of darkness fell. Through the hot 
night we moved between glimmering shores to our dock 
in St. Paul. We had started on a Tuesday afternoon. We 


were in at nine o'clock Saturday night. Nor was our com- 
ing unregarded. A large moonlight excursion boat, all 
lights and flags, was about to start from the same small 
landing. It whistled, it played lively tunes on a steam cal- 
liope, it moved a bit to let us edge in. Thousands of St. 
Paul's inhabitants, going aboard it, cast curious glances 
at our small pedestrian packet. 

Our sojourn at St. Paul, where we spent two nights and 
most of two days, is a quaint chapter in retrospect. We 
were almost under a big stone bridge. We were almost up 
against a big passenger station and a freight station. Night 
and day on two levels smart locomotives went clanging 
and boxcars went lumbering by. Along the other shore 
were barges, houseboats, shanty boats; also a huge and 
derelict menagerie boat which a year before had exhibited 
stuffed animals as well as live ones. Above the water 
flitted tern with blue bodies and sharp bills, questing for 
food, squealing and fighting among themselves over the 
choicer morsels. The temperature ashore the second day 
was one hundred and three in the shade. 

Hour after hour people sat on the dock and watched the 
boat, their interest heightened when we took our meals 
on deck in full view of the citizenry. When bedtime came 
our people walked across the hurricane roof to the 
showers, and emerging, sat in little family groups, clad 
only in bathrobes and pajamas, while they cooled off, still 
a close-up for interested bystanders. I repeat, it was quaint. 
I slept soundly amid all the tumult of homing railroad 
trains, yet did not protest when the packet started back. 

In June 1941, the Golden Eagle struck a hidden dike 
below St. Louis and sank in twelve feet of water. Prompt 
measures were taken to raise it 



THIS was another river, one 

which followed strange, wild laws of its own and it was 
about a year after I had been on the Upper Mississippi. 
The hour was bedtime, the place where three states meet. 
Crossing a bridge, the four of us shifted from Iowa into 
Nebraska. As we carried our bags downward through 
a dark woodland, South Dakota was just behind us. Be- 
low, dimly outlined by its. own lamps, lay a boat of some 
size. Out of it a man came with a flashlight to illumine 
the broken path. We followed him aboard. Soon I was 
in a berth in a little stateroom and fast asleep. When I 
awoke in the small hours and went to the window I could 
hear a nighthawk crying overhead and the slumbrous 
song of frogs along the bank, and see across a swiftly 
moving river the lights of a sleeping city. 

At daybreak the thunder of engines and the shaking 
of the boat's timbers aroused me. We were under way. 
While I was dressing for breakfast there was a sudden 
jar. We were aground on a sand bank, but only for a mo- 
ment. The boat backed off and went on. Soon I heard a 
curious chanting from the deck below. It was like the 
bleating of lambs in a meadow, yet the voice was human. 
I could not get the figures it was repeating, but two 
phrases I caught. One was Mark Twain, which meant 
twelve feet of water in the channel. The other was No 
Bottom, which meant anything more than twelve feet. 
It might mean thirty or forty, for even in low water there 
are such depths in the river. 



Had I not known where I was, had I been a prisoner 
instead of a guest of the army officers who brought me 
aboard, that bump on a bar and there were more like 
it on the first day together with the cries of the leadsman 
in the bow of the boat would have told me. I was on the 
Missouri. I had begun a six-day trip from Sioux City in 
the northwestern corner of Iowa to St. Louis on the Mis- 
sissippi, sixteen miles below the Missouri's mouth. A 
journey of nearly seven hundred and eighty miles lay 

Most of the route was to the south, while the Missouri 
performed those boundary tasks which all great rivers 
accept as their own, and drew parts of the state lines of 
South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. 
But my course and the river's was to change lower down. 
I borrow from Thomas H. Benton, old-time master of the 
sounding phrase, the words for it: "Here, where these 
rocky bluffs meet and turn aside the sweeping current of 
this mighty river, here the Missouri, after pursuing her 
southern course for nearly two thousand miles, turns east- 
ward to meet the Mississippi." He was speaking of Kansas 
City, and the words are on his monument there. I add 
that for once he did less than justice to that West which 
he was so wont to glorify. Counting the mountain-born, 
eastward-flowing Montana stretch to which he assigned 
an inadequate mileage the Missouri travels twenty-nine 
hundred and fifty miles, which makes it the longest of 
American waterways. 

I come back to my first breakfast. Eight persons sat 
down at the messroom table in the stern of the boat, and 
a white-clad, white-capped steward served us with fruit 
juice, a cereal, eggs, toast, and coffee. Two table items 
intrigued me: the glass salt cellars were shaped like light- 
houses, and there were narrow silver napkin bands each 


with a number; mine was number five. This device saves 
laundry bills, and why has it become so nearly disused? 
Of the seven other men at the table, four were civilian 
employees of the Missouri River Division of the War De- 
partment. The three others were the engineer officers 
with whom I had come aboard the night before. 

Breakfast was dispatched and we were all in the pilot- 
house by seven o'clock in the morning, about two hours 
ahead of usual office hours elsewhere. It did not take long 
to discover that this was an inspection tour and no junket. 
The pilothouse was a workshop in which men who 
knew every mile of the river were watching it two ways 
by using their eyes on water and shore, and by studying 
maps of both drawn on a scale of about one mile to every 
two inches. Those maps embodied history, current affairs, 
reasonable expectations, all set forth in different colors. 
Was a new bar forming on one of the crossings? What did 
that boil mean? Was the river making land behind those 
dikes as commanded to do, or pushing too far into a bend, 
or stealthily edging over to a course it had abandoned 
generations before, or making feints and passes toward 
shores it should let alone? How was work proceeding with 
the squads of men that were dredging and blasting and 
pile driving, and cutting willows to weave into mattresses? 

These were no perfunctory matters. Such trips are made 
twice a month, and area engineers in smaller boats are 
on the river every day. The Missouri follows sudden im- 
pulses, beneficent or maleficent, and literally executes 
them overnight. It is a good-Lord, good-Devil river, and 
never either of them two days in succession. Wherefore, 
while I looked on, the men in the pilothouse held their 
conferences as to what it would do next and how to hinder 
or help it. Engineering is a game of outguessing it, but 
always of seeming to play along with it. Once all of it was 


as everything above Sioux City still is what is called a 
wild river. On the Ohio, which is civilized, engineering 
is a science, on the Missouri an art presupposing some 
understanding of the secret minds of river gods. 

When my hosts pointed out things on their maps I 
reminded them that while they were interested solely in 
the channel, my interest took in the entire river, which 
included also the boat we were on, the ranks of cotton- 
woods back of the willows along the banks, the brown 
hawks hunting for meadow mice, and the joy-riding 
grackles which swept down stream, black against the bone- 
white of skeleton tree trunks adrift on the swift waters. 
These things one could see for one's self; but I was also 
curious about the river's history, and there the army offi- 
cers and the pilots could help, pointing out bends where 
packets had gone to pot, telling the story behind odd 

We were on the survey boat, Sergeant Pryor, and going 
along at from eleven to thirteen miles an hour. It is one 
of four such boats, all named after sergeants on the Lewis 
and Clark Expedition. The others are the Sergeant Floyd, 
the Patrick Gass> and the John Ordway. Our craft, a 
Diesel boat with twin-screw propellers, was only eighty 
feet long by twenty-two wide. It had a net tonnage of a 
hundred and nine and drew four feet of water. There were 
towing knees in front. In the bow where the leadsman 
stood were coils of rope, a capstan, an anchor, and the 
sounding pole a stick with alternate bars of red, white, 
black, and green, each a foot long. A crew of fourteen had 
its quarters on the lower deck. The deck above boasted 
of only one shower bath, but had eight comfortable bunks. 
Outstanding feature of our craft was its height. The pilot- 
house was almost a turret, its elevation giving the officers 
a commanding view of a river in constant need of watch- 


ing. It had an old-fashioned steering wheel with spokes, 
but was guided by levers. On the jack staff in the bow 
of the boat flew a red flag with a white castle upon it, 
emblem of the Engineer Department. In the stern was 
the American flag. Both came down at sunset. 

Once well under way my thoughts went back to the wild 
river which is beyond Sioux City, following it upward 
to its beginnings in western Montana more than seven 
thousand feet above the sea. I never had been on it, but 
on two counts I knew a little something about it. For 
days I had traveled beside it on a railroad train, and 
noted the way its slender channel wound beside scanty 
tree-borders; noted also, for I was keenly interested in 
cabins, the smallness of the logsmere poles which were 
built into the abodes of squaw men and squatters. Now 
and then I saw Indians riding along the valley paths on 
small, tough horses. At Great Falls in Montana the Mis- 
souri bade me a sonorous farewell and by other streams 
and passes I went on to the Coast. 

The second count is that I had read a report of the 
Missouri cruise of the John Ordway the summer before in 
the Waterways Journal of St. Louis, whose editor, Captain 
Wright, was a passenger. Towing four wooden barges, it 
started at Fort Peck in Montana, three hundred and 
twenty-seven miles below Fort Benton, the historic head 
of navigation, and in thirteen days traveled nearly five 
hundred miles to Lucky Mountain, just short of Bismarck, 
North Dakota's capital. That was at the rate of thirty-eight 
miles a day. 

Quaintest, perhaps, of all American travel narratives of 
the generation is Captain Wright's account of this jour- 
ney. One would not quite say of him, as was said of Co- 
lumbus, that when he started he did not know where he 
was going, when he reached his destination he did not 


know where he was, and when he returned he did not 
know where he had been. Yet his voyage had almost the 
quality of mystery of one of those voyages in quest of en- 
chanted islands that Irish sailors made in the age of 
fable. While the men aboard the John Ordway knew 
where they wanted to go, they seldom knew anything 
else. They had no river maps, no bridge maps, and road 
maps shed small light on the Missouri and the settlements 
along it. They were always guessing the names of these 
settlements, mistaking other towns for Wolf Point, for 
example, which for some reason they were keen to see. 
In the Wright narrative, which runs through fifteen issues 
of his magazine, there are constant references to an "east- 
west mountain" the trend of which they followed. Appar- 
ently none of the adventurers ever learned its name. 

Their course was from sand bar to sand bar. The tow- 
boat, which drew three and a half feet, was constantly 
running aground or into a bank, and pulling away again. 
It did not travel by night, which was wise. On the first 
day it made nineteen miles, on the second about forty- 
nine, and on most of the other days its mileage was some- 
where between these two figures.. Sample statements and 
phrases, taken from the record, may give the savor of this 
river saga: "The Ordway made a crossing with much rub- 
bing and some jerking." The first whirlpool proved to be 
"a first-class merry-go-round." "Except for a thinning line 
of river-bank cottonwoods, hardly a tree had we seen in 
all of eastern Montana." "Whatever this 7 P.M. town might 
be named, it boasted a good many Indians." "The river 
turned south. In the distance it ran square up against the 
usual east-west mountain range." "Twistings, grindings, 
and innumerable rubbings on the bottom." "Abreast a 
cheerless looking town, boasting three red-colored wheat 
elevators. Oh, well, the name of a village is unimportant." 


That mysterious mountain moves in and out of the 
story, "faithfully following us on the right or south river 
bank/' "The farthest we have so far been south of Canada 
is less than eighty miles." "We are flanking a street-corner 
turn where the river fetches up against a mountain. On 
its summit are nine people, the largest group gathered 
to watch us within the past three days." There is one 
romantic note: "Three squaws were attired in vivid red 
shawls, and one of them took hers off and waved!" 

Up the river down which the Ordway groped, and on 
which I was now traveling, three keelboats set forth in 
May, 1804. Their starting point was St. Louis, which was 
my destination. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was sent 
out by the hundred-minded Jefferson to explore the 
Louisiana Territory, just purchased from France, and to 
follow up the Missouri to its source. Before the river froze, 
the party had gone sixteen hundred miles. It wintered for 
five months near Bismarck, and when the ice ran out the 
thirty-two men went on, in fifty days gaming their first 
sight of the Rockies. They discovered the three forks of 
the Missouri, and named them after Jefferson, Madison, 
and Gallatin. In November, 1805, they reached the Pacific 
at the mouth of the Columbia, having gone forty-one 
hundred miles. The return trip brought their mileage to 
eighty-five hundred. Of all explorations of the American 
continent this was the greatest and most fruitful. 

From it stems the story of the Missouri River region. 
The capital of the upper Missouri, and the central point 
in its history, was Fort Union, near the boundary of Mon- 
tana and North Dakota, where the Yellowstone comes in 
from the South. Here in 1828 the American Fur Company 
set up a trading post-one of half a dozen on the upper 
riverwith a cottonwood stockade,. stone bastions for can- 


non, warehouses, huts for the men, and a reception room 
for visiting braves and their squaws. 

Kenneth McKenzie was the bourgeois, ruling with 
something of the state and authority of a Highland chief- 
tain. Among the tribes whom he is supposed to have in- 
fluenced were the ever-friendly Crows, the savage Sioux, 
the stone-boiling Assiniboines, the Mandans of the 
pheasant country, the Minnetarees or Willow People, the 
Grosventres, who ate their buffalo sausages raw, the well- 
named Flatheads and Nez Percys, and the numerous and 
powerful Blackfeet. They came to Fort Union to trade. 
Noted white men came there to see or serve: the artist 
Catlin, the scout Jim Bridger, Prince Maximilian of Wied, 
De Smet the Belgian missionary. For a generation the post 

Furs came to it and to other posts by water in craft of 
all sorts in cottonwood pirogues, in tublike skin boats 
paddled by squaws, in bullboats of buffalo skins on a 
framework of willow poles, in keelboats, and in mackinaw 
boats. Steamboats appeared on the river, the Western 
Engineer getting as far as Council Bluffs in 1819. The 
Yellowstone went farther, reaching Fort Union in 1831. 
Thus began the most daring of all chapters in American 
river navigation. Risks were high, but so were profits. A 
single trip might bring in enough money to pay for the 
boat. It must needs pay for itself in three or four years, 
for by that time, as a usual thing, the boat was no more. 
Three hundred Missouri River steamboats blew up or 
went to the bottom. It is asserted that the wreck of one 
lies in every bend of the river. An army engineer told 
me he had seen the dredges bring up fragments of these 
forgotten packets, and had examined the metal of their 
boilers and other parts crude and coarse-grained as if 


forged in some blacksmith shop in the backwoods, and so 
not foreordained to a long life. 

For the first seventy-five years of the nineteenth cen- 
tury the Missouri wrote most of the history of the North- 
west.f Up and down it passed the pioneers and pelts of the 
fur trade, the garrisons of the numerous army posts strung 
along from Fort Randolph to Fort Benton, supplies for the 
troops when an Indian war was on, annuities for the In- 
dians when they were at peace, delegations of savage 
orators to the treaty grounds. Also there were big-game 
hunters from Europe, government agents, scouts, indi- 
vidual trappers, gold seekers, and emigrants) The Indians 
always liked the traders. Steamboat men, to judge from 
their possibly biased narratives, thought poorly of the 
first swarm of emigrants, as men of little means who might 
not keep their covenants. 

Before a railroad reached the Missouri at Jefferson City 
in 1855, St. Louis was the starting point of its navigation. 
In turn, Sioux City, Yankton, and then Bismarck super- 
seded it. The mountain boats were nearly all low-water 
side-wheelers. One of them, the Chippewa, which ascended 
the tributary of Yellowstone for nearly five hundred miles, 
drew only twelve inches when traveling light. There were 
and there are two seasons of high water: the April rise, 
due to spring rains and melting snow in the lower valley; 
and the June rise, caused by the breaking of winter in the 
high Rockies. After availing of both seasons, the Mis- 
souri's steamboats left "that rainwater creek above Bis- 
marck" (Horace Bixby's injurious phrase) when cold 
weather came, and shifted to the Lower Mississippi for 
winter service there. 

Steamboats had their pilothouses and cabin decks 
sheathed with boiler iron against Indian bullets. When 
they came upon a herd of buffalo crossing the Missouri 


they lay by, lest one of the great brutes get entangled in 
a wheel. Save when there was a bright moon and some 
urgency was at hand they traveled only by day. In the 
higher latitudes their day started at three A.M, and ended 
at nine P.M. [They burned on an average twenty-five cords 
of hardwood, or thirty cords of cottonwood, in twenty- 
four hours of steaming. On the lower river there were 
woodyards. On the upper river, boats depended on piles 
of driftwood and on standing timber which had been pre- 
viously deadened. Wood sometimes sold as high as eight 
dollars a cord above Fort Randall.}, The Indians who 
vended it practiced tricks, sitting down in shallow water 
before their woodpiles to make an approaching boat be- 
lieve they were standing in depths providing easy anchor- 
age; smearing the ends of cottonwood logs with vermilion 
so that at a distance they could be mistaken for red cedar, 
which burned readily even in sap. Another source of 
steamboat firewood was the stockades and buildings of 
abandoned army posts and trading posts which for the 
most part had been poorly constructed, were flooded in 
high water, and were overrun with rats. 

Crew and passengers on an average boat numbered 
from one hundred to two hundred persons. The standard 
table fare at first was straitenedpork, hominy, navy 
beans. But hunters went ahead at night to kill game and 
hang it conspicuously along the banks. A young buffalo 
cow was a windfall. Passengers shot at geese and ducks 
while walking across the banks to meet the vessel at the 
next turn a hazardous thing in Indian territory. Arrival 
at a trading post was a great event. So at times was the 
start back to St. Louis, voyageurs celebrating with a wild 

Some of the cargoes were of great value, some of the 
profits enormous. All boats carried gold dust down. The 


Luella brought two hundred and thirty miners and gold 
dust worth a million and a quarter dollars back to civiliza- 
tion. In 1866 the profits of three single voyages were 
$17,000, $40,000, and $65,000. This was because travel 
fares and freight rates were high three hundred dollars 
for cabin passengers from St. Louis to Fort Benton, twelve 
cents a pound for freight. Pilots were paid as much as 
twelve hundred dollars a month. Passengers, particularly 
the miners and fur traders, always returned by boat, lest 
they be robbed and slain by Indians, cattle rustlers, or 
outlaws on the routes overland. 

So steamboating on the upper Missouri waxed and then 
waned. Its golden period was between 1855 an( i 1860. 
Fast, elegant craft were put on the river, and racing was 
common. There were fifty-nine boats on the lower river 
in 1858, three hundred and six steamboat arrivals at 
Leavenworth. In 1860 the Chippewa reached Fort Benton. 
In 1866 the Peter Balen ascended thirty-one miles beyond, 
or to within six miles of Great Falls, farthest point ever 
reached under steam on the river. In the same year seven 
packets lay at one time at the Fort Benton levee. 

The duel between the steamboats and the railroads ran 
from 1859 to ^87, when the Great Northern Railroad 
reached Helena, Montana. That was about the end. As 
one steamboat captain has alleged, packets began to sink 
with amazing regularity, 70 per cent of them from snags, 
and the marine insurance companies took a beating. The 

last commercial steamboat reached Fort Benton in 1800. 


Now, with the upper Missouri and its dime-novel story 
of adventure and vicissitude behind me, I was going down 
the lower Missouri and watching the nation's effort to 
make it again a populous, and for the first time a de- 
pendable waterway. 



BEFORE I embarked on the 

Missouri I knew that it was very long and that it was 
whimsical; and that was about all I knew. It was small 
where I had seen it in Montana; full of sand bars when 
I saw it at Council Bluffs two years ago just before the 
April rise. It was also the Big Muddy of popular nomen- 
clature. That it was a great and in places a very beautiful 
river comparable to the Ohio itself nobody had told me. 
On another count I may liken it to the Ohio. Before there 
were roads or railways each was a slanting route into an 
unknown continent, one into the Old West, the other into 
the New. On them, and on the short span of the Missis- 
sippi between them, trappers and settlers, and then an 
active commerce, had passed from the Appalachians dear 
to the Rockies. 

The Missouri has been fantastically misrepresented. 
Of course it bears plenty of silt, as does the fructifying 
Nile; and at sunset its waters have the same golden hue. 
But this is not held against Egypt's ancient . river, nor 
might it ever have been held against the Missouri but for 
somebody's ignorant excursion into etymology. No, the 
name is not Indian for a large and muddy river. It seems 
to come from the Oumessourit Indians who dwelt far 
down the river and to whom other tribes gave a name 
which meant "Living at the Mouth of the Waters." It is 
simply a significant place-name, like the Indian names 
Quapaw and Omaha which as elsewhere noted mean the 
Down-River People and the Up-River People. 


For the most part I was studying the shouldering bluffs 
and the wild marshlands that countered them on the other 
side of the river, and pondering the seeming loneliness 
of much of the great valley. These, however, were scenic 
matters and of the background. In the foreground, on the 
river's very edge, were a number of things which seemed 
as whimsical as the river itself. The shores looked some- 
what like inundated stockyards, somewhat like fenced 
cattle ranges, somewhat like roofless piers reaching out 
over salt water to dancing pavilions that a high tide had 
carried away. So-called dikes created these effects. 

The dikes were not earth embankments, at least at the 
start. They were long rows of piles, assembled like corn 
in a hill in clumps of threes, and driven down twenty to 
thirty feet deep into the earth. Some paralleled the shore, 
and their purpose was to build up land behind it. Others 
were spurs at acute angles, their purpose to push back the 
shores on the other side of the river. Still others were 
like log pigpens with four sides, and here, because of rock 
bottom, the piles were horizontal instead of vertical. The 
piles were principally cypress trees from the bayous of the 
South, firs from the far Northwest. Under water they may 
last for thousands of years. Above it, the average life is 
little in excess of ten years. 

The Missouri is a mason which carries along its own 
mortar and building materials; it is also a far more com- 
petent wrecking corporation than any which tears down 
an old office building in a single week to make room for 
a parking place. On this twofold nature rests the whole 
valley strategy of the Department of Engineers. The river 
is their steam shovel, derrick, and hod carrier a blind 
servant that works wonders if suggestions are discreetly 
conveyed to it; a sort of Caliban, if that be no libel. Its 


velocity, its burden of silt, and its broad valley dower it 
with a capacity to do things. Wherever the dikes parallel 
its shores, or cut across a chute, its slowed-down waters 
drop soil; the bank builds up, the chute dries up and then 
builds up, willows start, cottonwoods follow them, and in 
two or three years farmers are plowing in an old bed of the 
river. Wherever the dikes are thrust out from one shore 
toward the other, the latter backs off and the river comes 
in, and boats pass where a few years before red-winged 
blackbirds had been singing in the bushes. 

There is more, of course. New banks, and old banks 
which are properly placed, are protected by stone revet- 
ments, often of hard red stone from South Dakota. Also a 
river bed is entitled to a mattress. These so-called mat- 
tresses further protect the banks, running out on the river 
bottom for half a hundred feet. There are thousands of 
them, woven from millions of the pliable young willow 
trees which spring up everywhere along the banks. I have 
seen great barges pass, piled high and four-square with 
willows, about as a hay wagon is piled with timothy when 
it starts down a rough lane for the farmer's barn. 
Weighted with stone, the mattresses quietly checkmate 
Caliban when, in tricky mood, he would undermine where 
he has builded. 

Unlike the Ohio, the Missouri is not, nor ever can be 
in the section now being developed for navigation, a 
canalized river, with long pools between dams. Yet it has 
a number of canals. Pilot canals they are called, not be- 
cause they guide pilots but because they guide the river. 
Upon decree that its bed should be changed, dredges cut 
a narrow channel through land on one side or the other. 
When the last "plug" of earth is removed from the head 
of the canal, the river sweeps in and begins to widen what 
man has started; its old bed shallows and then fills up, and 


on it in succession come the willows, cottonwoods, and 

Fifteen minutes after one canal was opened, our pilot 
told me he had put his boat through; it went through in a 
hurry. There was drama in our own journey through the 
new channel, which was thirteen thousand feet long. The 
drama was enacted by a voice in the bow of the boat and 
reviewed by the rest of us up in the pilothouse. Soundings 
were incessant. They ranged from five feet, when there 
was but one foot of free water under us, to No Bottom, 
which was a plenty. The usual call that came up, how- 
ever, was Mark Twain. I must have heard those words 
forty times. It occurred to me that Samuel L. Clemens 
was pretty smart in choosing a pen name for which a great 
American river provided incessant ballyhoo. 

At the end of it all, the Missouri's canals will be un- 
recognized parts of its channel, its log picket fences will 
disappear under the silt, bushes and trees will cover them, 
and, in their ordered beauty, the river shores will be 
quite like those on the lower Ohio. That will be well, but 
it is not what the engineers are driving at. To some extent 
the old Missouri was and to a less extent it is not so 
much a river as just a route for water. The water flowed 
everywhere it pleased in a valley from two to seventeen 
miles wide. It followed secondary channels, it dissipated 
its volume in useless bayous, it flowed aimlessly through 
chutes behind sand bars. Every little while it played some 
scurvy trick, wiping out whole farms overnight or shifting 
them so that their title deeds are recorded in different 
counties, even in different states. For a minor illustra- 
tion, at De Witt Bend, sometimes called Box-Car Bend, 
I saw a string of old freight cars which a railroad had 
dumped into the water to protect its right of way against 
such a trespass. 


Perhaps the river's meanest trick was to back away from 
towns and leave them stranded miles inland. This it has 
done fourteen times. In Glasgow where we spent a night 
we traveled only by dayI saw what it was about. It was 
edging at various points into a neck of land, with the 
purpose of cutting through, and leaving the town high 
and dry, its railroad out of commission, and two great 
river bridges spanning nothing but an ox-bow lake. The 
engineers have forestalled that. 

For such protective work the reason is obvious, but 
why everything else that is being done? For answer, the 
purpose is simply to turn a wide route for water into a 
dependable river, keep it where it ought to be, and pro- 
vide it with sufficient depths for navigation all the year 
around, except in winter. At various times in its history 
the Missouri has had its bed in every acre of land in a 
valley that in places is seventeen miles wide. The plan is 
to hold it between banks from seven hundred to eleven 
hundred feet apart, letting it broaden out here and there, 
particularly where tributaries come in. These tributaries, 
however, must come in at an acute angle, and dikes have 
been set up to see that they do; if they entered head fore- 
most, the big river would slow them up and they would 
drop their silt, forming bars. At the mouth of the Mis- 
souri the same thing is being contrived. Its channel has 
been shifted downstream and contracted, so that the 
mouth is little more than half as wide as older maps 
show it. 

The most interesting thing I learned on my voyage is 
that water does not flow straight except through rocks, 
and should not be asked to do so. As one of our party 
an unofficial member put it, nature abhors a straight line. 
It had always been my notion that the deepest part of a 
river was the middle thereof, and that the bed was quite 


like the tin gutter which runs along the eaves of a house. 
Not so, at least on the Missouri. The deepest water is 
found in the concave bends at either side. Was this caused 
perhaps by the rotation of the earth? My question brought 
out no answer more definite than "Oh, it's a way that 
water has/' 

Navigation on the Missouri is just a matter of following 
a concave bend until it begins to merge into a convex one 
and then moving over to the other shore and following a 
concave bend there until the same thing happens, when 
you return to the first side. The route you follow between 
the two concave bends is called a crossing. It is shallower 
there, but not so shallow as it is off the convex bends. If 
you followed a concave bend all the time, obviously you 
would travel in a circle and come back to where you 
started, and so would the river which is not the way of 
rivers, though it is of lakes. Rivers have to go somewhere; 
lakes do not. Wherefore there must be convex bends, so 
that the river can get along. The pattern of concave- 
convex bends is that of the letter S. 

A major object of Missouri River engineering is to 
see that proper concave bends are maintained and pro- 
tected, are created where none exist, and corrected where 
too long or too short, or of irregular outline. There are 
also straightaways called reaches. It is not well that these 
should be very long. The longest, about seven miles and 
just above Pinckney Bend, is perhaps the most beautiful 
part of the river. Lofty bluffs clothed with hardwoods look 
down across the water from the left bank to a low-lying 
willow shore on the other side. The pilot said that in the 
fall these bluffs were something to see. 

Where navigable water is provided on the Ohio by a 
series of dams with lock chambers for boats to pass, the 
same end is sought on the Missouri by collecting the flow 


in the bends of a narrowed channel. Because of its burden 
of silt, there may never be a dam upon it save for the 
sections above those now being improved for navigation. 
If dams were set up in the navigable portions the river 
would drop its silt behind them, convert their pools into 
mere mudholes, and then flow over or around them. At 
Fort Peck, Montana, in the upper reaches of the river is 
a great new dam, the object of which is to store supplies 
for a reliable low-water flow down to the river's mouth. 
The lake which is collecting behind it will be two hun- 
dred feet deep at the dam-breast and will run back nearly 
two hundred miles. It should do a lot of good. 

There are two other notable things about the Missouri. 
Where the Mississippi has hundreds of islands, its greatest 
western tributary has none, at least in the navigable sec- 
tion from Sioux City down. Formerly it had, and the 
names of some are on the maps. But they are all ex-islands 
except at high stages of the river. The chutes behind them 
were cut off because the main river had need of that 
water, and then -the shore attached them to itself. The 
story of the Missouri is in its bends, the poetry is in their 
names. Here are some that attracted me: Dakota Bend, 
Winnebago, Black Bird, Little Sioux, Soldier, De Soto, 
Pigeon Creek, the Narrows, Council, St. Marys, Tobacco, 
Calumet, Nebraska, Otoe, Indian Cave, Arago, Rush Bot- 
tom, White Cloud, Squaw, Wolf Creek, Kickapoo, Bee 
Creek, Bean Lake, Contrary, Jackass, Sheep Nose, Fire 
Creek, Teteseau, Bon Homme, Slaughterhouse, Spring- 
house, Pelican, Plow Boy, C6te Sans Dessein Reach, South 

There is a separate story behind every one of these 
bends, but room here only for four. At South Point the 
Missouri reaches its farthest south. Because there were 
ladies aboard when a steamboat passed Jackass Bend, the 


captain declared that it was Mule Bend. Somebody kept a 
fine native wine in a springhouse overlooking Springhouse 
Bend. Opposite another bend was a curious hill which 
rose right out of the plain and was covered with trees and 
grasses strange to the region. So the French called the hill 
C6te Sans Dessein, which our pilot translated into "a Hill 
without a Reason," ignoring my contention that it prob- 
ably meant a shore without a pattern. 

The other notable thing about the Missouri is that it 
has two sets of levees, one of them home-made and seldom 
in sight. I did not suspect its existence until the trip was 
half over. When the farmers gained confidence in what 
the government was doing, which was only two or three 
years ago, and felt that the official banks would hold, 
they began to raise earthworks of their own back in the 
woods, to keep the flood water which got over the banks 
from invading their fields. With one flood successfully 
resisted, an earthwork would pay for itself. Some of the 
earlier levees surrounded three sides of a farm. The later 
plan was for neighbors to form levee districts and build 
together. I was told that, except where there are bluffs, 
these hidden enbankments follow both shores almost 
down to the river's mouth. 

Such was the present estate of the great stream I was 
descending. Government had been working on it for 
nearly a century, doing little beyond taking out snags 
until the i88o's. Then the Missouri River Commission 
was formed, made a study of channel regulation that has 
been the guide for subsequent improvement, but never 
received sufficient funds to do much. Its appropriations 
had to be spent on revetments to protect valley property 
rather than to improve navigation. In 1902 the Engineer 
Department of the Army took over. In 1927 the project 
assumed its present form, and adequate appropriations 


accompanied it. About three years ago project plans were 
elaborated so as to pay closer attention to the creation of 
S-curves at the bends, to reduce the maintenance cost of 
dredging, to revet banks ahead of possible dangers, and 
to speed up the river's tasks of self-cleansing. 

Perhaps the main change in objectives from the old 
days was in promoting navigation rather than in merely 
protecting shore property. The latter is still done where 
possible at waterworks intakes and bridges, even though 
this interferes with the best engineering practice. But the 
officers have no mandate to do anything except make the 
Missouri navigable. If one farmer finds himself possessed 
of a new meadow as a result of their moving the river 
away from his land and letting soil take the place of water, 
he is entitled to this accretion. If another farmer finds 
himself dispossessed of meadows because the river has been 
moved in on him, nothing can be done about it. Naviga- 
tion is everything. 

It has come into existence. Towboats and barges have 
been on the Missouri between Kansas City and its mouth 
since 1935. In 1938 more than half a million tons of com- 
modities valued at over seventeen million dollars moved 
on this section of the river. In 1939 commercial naviga- 
tion pushed upstream to Omaha, a large oil company mak- 
ing five trips thither from Kansas City, four of them being 
of four-barge tows, each with eight hundred thousand 
gallons of gasoline. Now there is some traffic as far up as 
Sioux City. This year's river tonnage is expected to double 
last year's. Commodities carried include vegetable prod- 
ucts, chemicals, textiles, machinery, oil products, and 
vehicles shipped principally upstream, and grain and its 
products, feed, gasoline, clay, and steel-mill products 
shipped principally downstream. 

I made a partial roundup of boats of all kinds upon the 


river, most of which I saw. There are two Coast Guard 
cutters, the Goldenrod and the Poplar; two steamboats, 
the Bixby and Suter; the inspection boats, Sergeant Pry or 
and Sergeant Floyd; five great dredges; perhaps twenty 
gasoline launches of from one hundred to three hundred 
tons burden; twenty contractors' quarter boats; seven 
commercial towboats with their barge fleets, operated by 
the Inland Waterways Corporation, the Marquette 
Cement Company, and the Sioux City and New Orleans 
Barge Line; one showboat, the Dixie Queen. I made no 
count of various barges, some stacked with enough young 
willow trees to fill half a dozen haymows. 

Through the years a lot of money has been expended 
in turning a wild river into a civilized waterway. When 
the task is complete the estimated cost will be $182,- 
000,000. Not counting navigation values, this outlay is 
practically halved by the indirect benefits to shore lands 
and other property. Nearly fifty million dollars has been 
added to the value of existing shore property by afford- 
ing it security and protection from erosion. As an illustra- 
tion, until two or three years ago, Omaha banks would 
not lend money on mortgage to a farmer whose land 
touched the river; they could not be sure that the farm 
would stay there, or even be anywhere. Now they lend. 
New and highly productive land has been reclaimed from 
the river bed. Its value is set at ten million dollars, a 
reasonable figure since the land amounts to perhaps a 
quarter-million acres. Furthermore, estimates show that 
maintenance expenditures formerly borne by the owners 
of waterworks, light plants, bridges, highways, railroads, 
and other public and private enterprises, in an effort to 
keep the river from moving in upon them, have been re- 
duced by more than twenty-five million dollars. This 
makes a total of nearly eighty-six million dollars. 


The other half of the nation's expenditure is repre- 
sented by a river now restored to full commercial naviga- 
tion as far up as Omaha, and approaching it as far up as 
Sioux City. In a word, the six-foot channel which Con- 
gress decreed has actually come into being. That is not all. 
In most cases the Missouri already has achieved more than 
a six-foot channel, average depths being nearly double 
that; and there is the great Fort Peck reservoir to draw 
upon. For the expenditure of about six million dollars 
more, in refinement work at the crossings, engineers say 
that a nine-foot channel could be created, if Congress so 
ordered. Then the Missouri's channel would have the 
same minimum depth as the Ohio's and Mississippi's, and 
boats of equal draft with theirs could ply upon it. 

I have yet to speak of the army engineers in whose 
charge is the Missouri and in whose company I made the 
inspection trip from the head of navigation down to St. 
Louis. Their chief is Colonel F. S. Besson, engineer for 
the entire Missouri River Division, which has district 
offices at Fort Peck, Omaha, and Kansas City; to his cour- 
tesy I am indebted for the fulfillment of a dream of long 
standing. Two district engineers, Lieutenant Colonel Hel- 
mar Swenholt of the Omaha office, and Major A. M. 
Neilson of the Kansas City office, were also aboard. So 
were Major John Arrowsmith, executive assistant to the 
division engineer, and Major Francis H. Oxx, executive 
assistant to the district engineer at Kansas City. We were 
joined at different places, and upon another inspection 
boat, by Captain Leland F. Wykert in command of the 
Air Corps Detachment at Lincoln, Nebraska; Colonel 
Jerome G. Pillow, army officer (retired) and Arkansas 
planter; Arthur G. Everham, director of public works at 
Kansas City; Willard J. Breidenthal, Kansas City banker, 


and Guy E. Stanley, executive assistant of the Union 
Pacific Railroad. 

The army engineers were a singularly interesting and 
of course a highly intelligent group. All had been places, 
serving their country in war and peace upon other water- 
ways and in other lands: on the Ohio, on the Intra-Coastal 
Canal, in Cuba, in Japan, in the Philippines, and in the 
brief and nearly forgotten campaign against the Soviets 
in Arctic Russia. Their comradeship aboard was devoid 
of salutes and other ceremony, and at table I remarked a 
common fondness for such sincere American comestibles 
as corn pone, green onions, and the beverage known as 

After a while I became aware that some quality of 
drama invested this trip. A contact car accompanied us 
down the river, appearing at stated points to deliver or 
receive messages, to take off or put on officers, or just to 
disappear at a wave of dismissal from the pilothouse. This 
was routine and imperative on lonely river stretches, 
where the boat might break a shaft far from help or 
habitation. But the coming and going of the army en- 
gineers on our boat was not routine. None of them stayed 
long upon it. I went ashore with one to see what he was 
about and fetched up at a huge, half-completed bomber 
plant at Fort Crook a few miles beyond Omaha. He was 
building it. It covers about fifteeen acres and will employ 
twenty-one thousand men, who will turn out Martin 
bombers. Other engineers of our group were building a 
bomber plant of about equal size at Kansas City, an air- 
field at Fort Riley, an airfield near Denver, an airport at 
Cheyenne, munition plants at various places. 

Throughout state after state, in all the wide territory 
from which water flows toward the Missouri, these en- 
gineers are rearing defense works. At the same time they 


are watching the water, and with seeming ease carrying 
a double burden. At last I knew why the nation requires 
army engineers to do so much peacetime work on rivers- 
damming, dredging, revetting, straightening or twisting 
channels; commanding large work forces of their own, 
directing contractors with still larger forces under them. 
Thus are they schooled and disciplined for building mu- 
nition factories, bridges, military roads, railroads, earth- 
works, and battle camps when war is on or near. Caliban, 
which is the Missouri, is a sort of college professor. 



FOR the most part we moved 

through a world of willows and cottonwoods as we went 
down the Missouri. The willow is the most useful of 
all shore trees, springing up by the billions in chutes, in 
marshes, and in old beds of the river as soon as it goes 
elsewhere; making land also, and providing withes with 
which the unruly giant is bound down. The cottonwood 
or poplar, which is quite useless as lumber, is responsible 
for most of the snags in the channel; but it helps to make 
land, grows rapidly, and with its neighbors falls into 
stately processions along the river banks. It filled the air 
with its down as our boat went by, and I wondered why 
nobody had ever woven this into a fabric; it would make 
but a filmy garment, of course, yet perhaps all the better 
suited for models to wear at an Artists' Ball. 

The characteristic fowl of the valley has the setting sun 
on its shoulders, the somber midnight as its tunic, and in 
its throat the wild sweetness of the first dawn song. This 
is the red-winged blackbird. Two other birds, however, 
are more numerous. One is the tern, flocks of which do 
their dipping food-dances over the water; it has no music 
save a thin cackle. I saw a white, beautiful, slant-rigged 
tern of a different species. The other bird which showed 
itself in numbers was the bank swallow, its twitter the 
mere ghost of a song. At one place were hundreds of nests 
in a cliff with the swallows hovering along its face or 
perched at the thresholds of their cave dwellings; Buffon 
would have called them troglodytes, which is no name for 



creatures so dainty. Out of every thicket where we stopped 
came the gay song of chewinks. 

Among larger, cruder birds, I noted great blue herons 
patrolling the valley. Once at dawn I saw ten pelicans 
standing in conference in shallow water near the Ne- 
braska shore. Later that morning a party of buzzards rose 
from some loathly but salutary banquet on a bayou's edge. 
Much of the time one of these large black birds was float- 
ing overhead. When a mudhen flew low across the water, 
information was volunteered that it was not bad eating 
if instead of plucking you skinned it, thereby divesting 
its carcass of an ancient and fish-like odor. Now and then 
a hawk dipped down into the bulrushes. Once a painted 
pheasant flew along a green alley of the wood. Crows were 
always alighting on the drift and seemed to prefer stumps; 
a good guess is that they were after grubs rather than a 
drink of Missouri River water, which, by the way, thick 
as it is, is quite potable. That is what filtered of course 
we drank on the boat. 

The drift fascinated me. We overtook it at the mouth 
of the Platte, up which heavy rains had fallen. Daily we 
rode with it, got ahead of it, and then tied up for the 
night. In the morning it had overtaken us, and again for 
a while was our travel companion. It made the river look 
like a cornfield after husking time. The flotsam of other 
seasons, which floods had piled up on the log dikes, 
wrought outlandish effects. Sometimes it gave them the 
semblance of rude brush lodges thrown together by un- 
skillful hunters. Stumps which were perched upon piles 
looked like giant bullfrogs. Trees wrapped themselves 
over the timbers like alligators climbing a fence. One 
trunk, couched along a dike, might have been a catamount 
about to spring. Colossal animals, saurians, extinct birds, 
the drift simulated them all. Its most striking piece of 


wooden sculpture was a blasted sycamore, too much like a 
skeleton lying on its back with sagging skull, sprawling 
limbs, and aimless fingers. 

It was easy to fancy that on some night when there was 
no moon and few stars, but plenty of fox fire in the woods, 
these unhallowed forms might come to life and lead through 
the mists of the sleeping river a masquerade of days that 
were best forgotten. 

These and kindred matters I pondered from the deck, 
where I spent all of my time except when in bed or at 
table or in the pilothouse. Missouri River winds are bluff 
but kind, and they and the warm sunshine did desirable 
things to me. One was to induce drowsiness between 
meals; but just when I nodded, in the middle of the fore- 
noon or afternoon, along came the steward with a pot of 
coffee. Always I was conscious of an agreeable odor from 
the shore, where sweet clover grew wild. Sometimes there 
was mingled with this the scent of alfalfa hay curing in 
an upland field, of blooming catalpa trees down along the 
banks. The scene changed with every bend, little rivers 
entering, long sand bars appearing, jungles knotted to- 
gether with wild grapevines coming and going, weedy 
bayous winding back to higher land, glimpses of russet 
wheat, yellow barley, gray-green rye, and pink plowed 
fields showing on distant farmsteads. Overhead white 
clouds formed and faded, only less substantial, I reflected!, 
than shorelands which had been river bed before and 
would be such again. 

Recognizing that I was a traveler and no student of 
navigation my shipmates volunteered items which they 
thought might entertain me. Did I know that you could 
train catfish? I did not. Yet the cooks on the quarter boats 
had done this thing. After meals they gathered up the 
scraps and banged on dishpans. Swarms of catfish as- 


sembled for the feast. Another tale was so extraordinary 
that I name the man who sponsored it, adding that I be- 
lieved him. Major Arrowsmith told it, pinning it, I think, 
on an uncle in Defiance County, Ohio. While this relative 
was hunting with hounds, they treed some unusual crea- 
ture, as their puzzled yelps proclaimed. Cautiously ap- 
proaching a hollow sycamore, he peered into a hole and 
found a large catfish in a pool of water, apparently thriving 
on the grubs which infest such trees. High water had car- 
ried it inside and, receding, had imprisoned it. 

There was also talk of beavers and wolves. I saw what 
the former had been doing along the banks. In three or 
four places they had cut down sizable trees, so as to feed 
on the bark and tender shoots. One pilot reported that he 
often saw a beaver perched on a dike gravely watching the 
boat. An army engineer said that complaint had been 
made to the Omaha office that these animals were cutting 
down the finest shade trees at a summer camp, and what 
was to be done about it? Nothing, for the law protects 
them; and so in various sections they are returning to 
their old haunts. The beaver created the fur trade, and 
the fur trade opened up the continent. As much as the 
buffalo, he is entitled to consideration. 

One man said that on another trip he had seen a wolf 
cross an open field and enter the woods. I was unaware 
that there were wolves in Missouri, and suggested that 
it might have been a coyote. But no, it was a timber wolf. 
Farther downstream the wolf-legend took on the sub- 
stance of reality. We passed the (ex) island of St. Aubert, 
which is five miles long, a mile or so wide, and overrun 
with rabbits. One of the crew, hunting with a friend, had 
taken forty-eight in a single afternoon. Wolves favor rab- 
bits and make forays upon the island from their dens in 
the Ozark foothills which are just back of the river plain. 


Nearly every farmer thereabout has a pack of wolf hounds. 
Hunts are organized, farmers riding to the known wolf 
crossings and waiting there for a shot. One old wolf has 
quite a reputation, at least among the hounds. When a 
pair of them get too far ahead of their fellows, he turns, 
disciplines them with claw and fang, and is off again. 
After that, they are still dogs but no longer hounds. Mis- 
souri pays bounties on wolf scalps. 

Stopping at sunset instead of going on through the night 
was something new to me. Missouri River boats did that 
a hundred years ago, and people could get off and ramble 
around, if no Indian sign was noted. So I did. There are 
government lights from Omaha down for pilots to steer by, 
and commercial towboats travel at night; but as ours was 
an inspection trip that meant only daylight going. The 
first stop was at Omaha. I pass it up, because any city 
which has no better landing place for government officers 
who are directing the expenditure of millions of dollars 
in that area than a shabby, slippery ash heap, scarcely 
belongs in a travel narrative. I sprained a leg getting back 
to the boat. 

Rulo was better. It may have four hundred inhabitants. 
I doubt if it is on any map. We stopped there in the late 
afternoon of the second day. Everybody got off and every- 
body else went away from there. I shifted to a companion 
boat, the Sergeant Floyd. Until nearly midnight I was its 
sole passenger. After Captain Henry Thomas, the master, 
had led me to my stateroom, and I had taken supper alone, 
I sat on the forward deck and watched the river rush by. 
It was going fast, perhaps six miles an hour, and had risen 
more than a foot since the previous evening. Word of my 
solitary estate may have reached the crew's quarters on 
the deck below. Anyway, the head of the boat's engineer 
a veteran of the San Diego tuna fleet showed above the 


gangway. Would I like to see how the boys lived? On the 
other boat I had merely surmised the existence of a crew. 
This time I saw its members, sixteen strong, as well as 
the glittering engine room beyppd which were their quar- 
ters. They had shower baths and good bunks, and a large 
messroom in which members were playing cards. A few 
were taking showers, for something was doing ashore. 

It seems that there is always something doing ashore 
when a boat puts in at Rulo. When I went up the bank 
and a hillside road to the hamlet to get sunburn ointment 
and a few cards at the post office, I found out. There was 
to be a dance that night in a new auditorium which was 
also a gymnasium, admission twenty-five cents. I asked the 
postmistress if it would be proper for a passing stranger 
to attend and look on. She said it would. 

As it was still daylight, I explored the village, first get- 
ting my bearings. 

'Is this Iowa or Missouri?" I asked a native. 

"Neither," he replied, "this is Nebraska." 

I came across a bronze tablet set in a red sandstone 
boulder which recited that Lewis and Clark had encamped 
in 1804 at the foot of a cliff which could be seen from 
there. After two days on the water familiar land things 
seemed to have fresh appeal. Walking along I saw wayside 
roses, iris, peonies, a potato patch in bloom. A column 
of twittering swifts was pouring into a disused chimney, 
wrens were bubbling, a dove mourning, a catbird spilling 
snatches of remembered melodies in a twilight soliloquy. 

In the dance hall on the hill, a young woman at the 
door pinned on my coat a small square of orange paper, 
perhaps a rain check. There was an orchestra of five pieces, 
a crowd of fourscore persons of all ages. The postmistress 
did not seem to remember my face, or she might have 
been asked for a dance. I soon left, and hearing music on 


the road back to the boat turned off and entered a tavern 
on the river bank. Dancing to a mechanical piano was 
going on in the barroom, and in the large dining room 
adjoining a party of men and women were eating fried 
chicken. Again I looked on. The tavern, I learned, had 
cottages to rent, was celebrated for its catfish dinners, and 
wasor planned to be something of a resort. And that 
sums up all I heard about the little hamlet, except that 
there are a number of Indians in the country behind. 

Returning to the vessel I put on a second pair of socks, 
for the night was chill, and sat up waiting for a group of 
men who were driving in from somewhere else. As its 
only visible occupant I felt that I should greet them, and 
I did. Pretty soon one of the officers said, "The boat is 
cold. We must have more heat." He went below. Then it 
dawned on me that I had welcomed him to his own boat. 

At Kansas City, where we laid up for the third night, I 
was a casual spectator of a third dance, this one a sprightly 
sorority function with young girls in lovely long gowns 
and boys in white dress jackets. It was held on the roof of 
a clubhouse whence a citizen pointed out to me the course 
of the Kaw which comes in there, and which I wanted to 
see. In his car he took me through the old pioneer quarter 
to the noble and nobly placed World War memorial, and 
then out along the bluffs. The city has a very decent land- 
ing with ^good flight of steps for government boats. 

The Kaw was the second of two major tributaries of the 
Missouri, the mouths of which I had seen. At Plattsmouth, 
not far below Omaha, the Platte had come in, far narrower 
than I had expected and turbid from heavy storms. It is 
perhaps the best known of all unnavigable rivers; only 
Indians in bullboats drawing a few inches have ever made 
anything out of it. The main utilities of the Platte are for 
irrigation in the short grass country. Yet its mouth, as the 


dividing line between the upper and lower Missouri, once 
had a legendary repute, and passing it was celebrated by 
Missouri River sailors as seamen still celebrate the crossing 
of the Equator. Pawnees lived in its long valley, which 
reached back through its two forks into the Rockies; great 
herds of buffalo roamed there; the Forks of the Platte was 
a geographical name of importance, and there were even 
the Coasts of the Platte, which were low sand hills, far 
from its mouth. 

Because a great railroad runs up the valley, I have seen 
something of the river. As I followed its course westward 
through Nebraska, it was not always certain whether I 
was looking at a river, a swamp populous with islands and 
sand bars, or merely interlacing meadows on which a light 
rain had fallen. However, I saw a large flock of wild geese 
on one of the sand bars. The historical backgrounds are 
as deep as the waters are shallow. Since the valley offers 
an easy pathway to the foothills of the Rockies, early mov- 
ers into the West preferred the route to any other. Over it 
ran the Oregon Trail and its related pathways, the Mor- 
mon and the California Trails. 

Although equally a broad and shallow waterway, the 
Kaw, or Kansas, has a brief memory of steamboat naviga- 
tion. This began propitiously with the trip of the Excel in 
1854, bearing materials from Kansas City to build Fort 
Riley, two hundred and forty miles upstream, or only 
sixty miles below where the forks join to make the river. 
Other low-water packets carried corn and passengers upon 
it until the Civil War. Before the war closed, the Kansas 
Legislature did what the railroads wanted it to do, de- 
clared the Kaw unnavigable, and authorized the building 
of low-level bridges across it. 

The Kansas-born Osage also has a memory of steam- 
boats and in the Civil War of gunboats. After a meander- 


ing journey of perhaps five hundred miles, it comes in at 
C6te Sans Dessein some distance below Jefferson City, 
the Missouri state capital. The river's other name is 
Marais des Cygnes. Farther down we stopped at the mouth 
of the Gasconade to get maps. Though its name carries 
some echoes of boastful music, this is a well-behaved 
waterway* It rises in the Missouri Ozarks and is three 
hundred miles long; light-draught boats have ascended it 
for a hundred. The mouth is used for a harbor and I saw 
a great side-wheeler dredge lying in it. Here the Coast 
Guard has a station, and the engineers a material yard and 
a boat yard where major craft have been built. The black- 
and-white buoys that mark one side of the Missouri's 
channel are called Cans, and a glance tells you why. The 
red-and-white buoys that mark the other side are called 
Nuns, and I did not see why until I noticed a score of 
them ranged beside a shed on the banks of the Gasconade. 
They looked like a procession of nuns in red robes and 
white-peaked caps pausing to say their devotions. 

On the Sergeant Floyd, which was half again as large as 
its sister boat and had the only texas I have ever seen 
which passengers had not pre-empted, we went down 
the river into a country where habitations were no longer 
scarce. Mentally I dubbed the two commodious decks the 
front porch and the back stoop. From them I saw historic 
towns loom and fadeIndependence, Leavenworth, Atchi- 
son, St. Joseph all jumping-off places for gold seekers and 
settlers in another age. I scanned bluffs behind which were 
reservations of those industrious farmers, the Omaha and 
Winnebago Indians. In a dissolving panorama I saw the 
valley world pass by naked boys swimming in backwaters, 
barefoot women waving from shanty boats, quarter boats 
with the week's washing flying from their roofs, cattle 
feeding in lush pasture fields, litters of small black pigs 


with their dams perusing the flats, silver fireflies that were 
sunbeams dancing upon broken water. At half-hour inter- 
vals musical bells on the deck below proclaimed the time 
in sea-fashion; at four o'clock, eight, and, twelve, eight 
bells sounded, and then the tale of the hours began again. 

From time to time, shore or river matters, which may 
here be grouped, were made known to me. There is only 
one ferry on the Missouri from Sioux City down. Tabo, 
name of a former island, was once Terre Beau. On their 
westward exodus the Mormons crossed the Missouri a few 
miles above Omaha; a Mormon hill cemetery is on the 
Nebraska side. At Quindaro Landing fugitive slaves 
crossed into Free Kansas, biding for a space in a cave on 
the Kansas side. There has been recent rafting to a box 
factory in Mokane from timber lands fifty miles above. 
The Missouri town of Arrow Rock has a good Indian 
legend and a better steamboat hotel. Washington is the 
original home of commercial corncob pipes, known to the 
trade as Missouri meerschaums; special corn with thick 
cobs is grown thereabout and the cobs turned upon 
wooden lathes. The bluff towns a good name of Napo- 
leon, Waterloo and Wellington almost adjoin each other. 

Left to itself the Missouri, I was also told, will wash the 
sand out from under a boat stranded on a bar and set it 
free; to expedite their release, boats take spars along and 
practically walk out on stilts into deep water. In low water 
at the end of the navigation season, a snagboat goes up 
and down the river clearing out the logs. As the Missouri 
rises, crossings work downstream; they come up again 
when it drops. Two sets of mileage figures adjoining each 
other on the dikes and pilot lights give the distances from 
the mouth of the Missouri as of 1892 and 1930; sometimes 
they differ by as much as twenty miles sign manual of a 
vagabond waterway. 


On the last night we continued down the river until 
dusk, when we made fast to piles at the foot of a lonely 
bluff in a reach without a name. All I know is that it was 
fifty-one miles above Missouri's mouth. In the distance 
was the feeble flame of a lantern set out to guide passing 
boats. Stars came into the sky as darkness deepened, but 
to us there in the shadow of a steep and wooded shore 
they were of small avail. A wind sighed through the forest, 
crickets chirped, frogs put on their rhythmic hymn to 
night, or perhaps to love. 

The four of us sat on the "deck listening. Then a voice 
said, "I'm tired setting. Let's turn in." We did, and it was 
a little after eight o'clock on a night in May in the year 
nineteen hundred and forty-one. 

Our vessel was under way before daybreak, as the river 
eased down into the lowland country, its long journey 
near an end. In the morning we passed a boathouse pavil- 
ion in a niche between white rocks. With its smokestacks 
and texas, almost it seemed to be a packet, and once it 
was. Part of it had come ashore to stay. When, an hour 
later, we entered the Father of Waters, a towboat with 
four barges crossed our course. It bore the only name possi- 
ble for a boat to bear when the traveler comes out of the 
Missouri into the Mississippi and the boat is passing by. 
As the Mark Twain pushed on upstream its stern was a 
sheet of falling silver. 


Among the sources for background material as set forth 
below, the author makes special acknowledgment of the 
publications of the history departments of the State Uni- 
versities of Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas, and particularly 
of William J. Petersen's entertaining and authoritative 
account of steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, and 
the several volumes in which, with skill and scholarship, 
Grant Foreman has recalled to the country the dramatic 
but only dimly remembered land-and-water story of the 
American Southwest. 

For the material availed of in bringing these chapters 
of river history up to the present and confirming and am- 
plifying the author's personal observations, he acknowl- 
edges a major indebtedness to the annual reports of the 
Chief of Army Engineers and the several publications of 
the Corps of Army Engineers and its Ohio and Missouri 
River Divisions; to Documents of Congress, and to the 
publications of the United States Coast Guard, the Bureau 
of Fisheries, and the Bureau of Marine Navigation. The 
files of the Waterways Journal have again been of unique 

ASBURY, HERBERT, The French Quarter. 
AUGHINBAUGH, B. A., Know Ohio. 

Baton Rouge Handbook. 

BEADLE, JOHN H., Western Wilds and the Men Who Redeem 


and America. 




BRITT, ALBERT, Great Indian Chiefs. 


BUREAU OF FISHERIES, Department of Commerce. Reports on 

mussel shells, pearls, meats, and buttons. 
BUREAU OF MARINE NAVIGATION, Pilot Rules for the Rivers 

Whose Waters Flow into the Gulf of Mexico. 

CABLE, GEORGE W., The Grandissimes. 

CHAPPELL, PHIL E., A History of the Missouri River. 

CHITTENDEN, HIRAM MARTIN, History of Early Steamboat Navi- 
gation on the Mississippi. 

CINCINNATI Times-Star, Files. 

CLEMENS, S. L., Huckleberry Finn; Life on the Mississippi. 

COATES, ROBERT M., The Outlaw Years. 

COOK, JIM (LANE) and T. M. PEARCE, Lane of the Llano. 

CORPS OF ARMY ENGINEERS, Improvement of the Missouri River* 

CRAMER, ZADOK, The Navigator. 

CUMINGS, FORTESCUE, Sketches of a Tour to the Western 

CURTIS, GEORGE WILLIAM, Orators and Addresses, 

DEATHERAGE, CHARLES P., Steamboating on the Missouri River 

in the 'Sixties. 
DE Bow, J. D. B., "The Great Raft of the Red River and Its 

Removal/' De Bow's Commercial Review, Vol, 19, 1855, 
DE QUINCEY, THOMAS, The English Mail Coach. 
DUNBAR, SEYMOUR, A History of Travel in America. 

EGGLESTON, GEORGE GARY, Recollections of a Varied Life. 
ESKEW, GARNETT LAIDLAW, The Pageant of the Packets. 

FENNEMAN, NEVIN, Physiography of the Eastern United States. 

FERBER, EDNA, Show Boat. 

FISKE, JOHN, The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War. 

FLINT, TIMOTHY, Recollections of the Last Ten Years; Geog- 
raphy and History of the United States. 

FOREMAN, GRANT, Adventure on Red River; Indian Removal; 
Marcy and the Gold Seekers; "River Navigation in the Early 
Southwest," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 15. 

FREEMAN, LEWIS R., Waterways of Westward Wandering. 


GARDINER, DOROTHY, West of the River. 
GLAZIER, WILLARD, Down the Great River. 
GOULD, E. W., Fifty Years on the Mississippi. 
GRAYSON, FRANK Y., Thrills of the Historic Ohio River. 
GREEN, ROBERT M., "The Conquest of the Llano Estacado/' 

Cincinnati Literary Club Papers. 
Greene Steamboat Newspaper, Vols. i, 2, 3, 4. 
GREGG, JOSIAH, Commerce of the Prairies. 
GREVE, CHARLES THEODORE, Centennial History of Cincinnati. 

HALL, JAMES, Sketches of History, Life and Manners in the 


HANSON, JOSEPH MILLS, The Conquest of the Missouri. 
HAY, JOHN, Complete Poetical Works; Abraham Lincoln in 

collaboration with John G. Nicolay. 
HEARN, LAFCADIO, Creole Sketches. 
HEMPSTEAD, FAY, School History of Arkansas. 
HERBERT, VICTOR and HENRY BLOSSOM, Mademoiselle Modiste. 
HERNDON, DALLAS T, The Arkansas Handbook. 
HERODOTUS, History. 
HOUSE DOCUMENTS, Yazoo River, Miss. Document No. 198, ?jd 

Congress, zd Session; Red River, La., Ark., Okla. and Texas, 

Document No. 378, 74 th Congress, 2d Session. 

IRELAN, JOHN ROBERT, History of Zachary Taylor. 

JONES, ROBERT RALSTON, "The Ohio River/' United States 
Army Engineers Publication. 

KING, GRACE, New Orleans, the Place and the People. 

LAUT, AGNES C, The Blazed Trail of the Old Frontier. 
LIGHTY, KENT and MARGARET, Shanty-Boat. 
'LoNG, STEPHEN H., "Expedition to the Rocky Mountains/' 

Early Western Travels. 

LUDWIG, EMIL, The Nile: the Life Story of a River, 


New Orleans City Guide, WPA Federal Writers Project. 

Natchez and the Pilgrimage. 
NUTTALL, THOMAS, A Journal of Travels Into the Arkansas 


Technique; Navigation on the Ohio River. 

PARKMAN, FRANCIS, The Oregon Trail. 

PETERSEN, WILLIAM J., Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi. 


ROOSEVELT, THEODORE, The Winning of the West. 
RUSSELL, CHARLES EDWARD, A-Rafting on the Mississip. 

SAXON, LYLE, Father Mississippi. 

SCHIERLOH, SAMUEL, Grains That the Huskers Lost 

SEITZ, DON C., Uncommon Americans. 

SELLARDS, E. H., B. C. THORP and R. T. HILL, "Investigation 
on the Red River, Made in Connection with the Oklahoma- 
Texas Boundary Suit," University of Texas Bulletin, July, 


SEMPLE, ELLEN CHURCHILL, Influences of Geographic Environ- 

SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM, Antony and Cleopatra. 

TOUSLEY, ALBERT S., Where Goes the River. 

sissippi River; Report upon the Improvement of Rivers and 
Harbors in the Vicksburg, Miss., District; Report on the 
Yazoo River; Nov. 1933; Annual Reports. 

UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, Light List on Ohio and Missis- 
sippi Rivers. 

Waterways Journal, Files. 
WILSON, CHARLES E., History of Coles County. 
WRIGHT, DONALD T., Diary of a Steamboat Trip up the Ar- 



Acadia, 43-48 
Adrift in a Great City, 160 
Alexandria, 83 
Alleghany River, 121 
Antony and Cleopatra, 154 
Arkansas, Grand Duchy of, 


Arkansas Post, 89, 92 
Arkansas River, 36, 88-102, 


Assinibome Indians, 225 
Atchafalaya River, 87 
Audubon, John James, 17, 68, 



Banks, General Nathaniel 

Prentiss, 83 
Barataria coast, 60 
Barge lines, no 
Barges, no, 116, 119 
Barren River, 121 
Baton Rouge, 59-61 
Bayou, 43 
Bayou State, 60 
Bayou Teche, 42-48, 75, 106 
Beauregard, General Peter 

Gustave Toutant, 62, 68 

Beaver River, 140 
Beavers, 245 

Beltrami, Giacomo Constan- 
tino, 185 

Bends, names of, 234-236 

Bertha, the Sewing Machine 
Girl, 125 

Besson, Colonel F. S., 239 

Big Black River, 51 

Big Sandy River, 121 

Big Sunflower River, 41 

Bird life, 34, 145, 188, 242-243 

Black Hawk, 201 

Black Hawk War, 200-201 

Black River, 207 

Boat signals, 183 

Boat stores, 210 

Book of Mormon, 174 

Bradbury, John, 89 

Brown, Captain Joe, 107 

Bunyan, Paul, 207 

Butler, Ben, 65 

Cable, George W., 68, 116 
Cahokia, 143 
Cairo, 17 

California Trail, 249 
Canadian River, 99 




Cape Cod weatherglass, 192 
Cape Girardeau, 145 
Carolina Bluffs, 77 
Carville leper colony, 34 
Catlin, George, 190 
Cave-in-Rock, 18-19 
Centennial Lake, 38 
Cherokee Indians, 93-98 
Chickasaw Bluffs, 29 
Chickasaw Indians, 29, 54, 96 
Choctaw Indians, 39, 54, 85, 


Cincinnati, 16, 115-124 
Cincinnati water front, 125- 

Cincinnatus, Lucius Quintus, 


Civil War, 40, 83, 92 
Clamming, 182 
Clark, George Rogers, 151 
Clay, Henry, 176 
Coast Guard, 126-128, 238, 


Coldwater River, 39 
Colorado River, 88 
Commerce of the Prairies, 99 
C6te Sans Dessein, 236 
Council Bluffs, 225 
Covered Wagons, 99, 101 
Cramer, Zadok, 18 
Creek Indians, 93 
Cross Timbers, 78, 79 
Cumberland River, 121 
Cumings, Fortescue, 36 
Currier and Ives, 192 
Cut-offs, 112 


Dams, 186-187 
Davenport, 210 
Davis, Jefferson, 65, 203 
De Soto, 89, 103 
Des Moines, 214 
Dikes, 230 

Dredgeboats, 112, 179 
Dueling, 66, 139 

Eggleston, Edward, 17 
Embarras River, 149 
Engineers, army, 42, 111-112, 
215-216, 220-222, 230-234, 

*3 6 -337> 239-241 
Ephemera (shad flies), 188- 

Evangeline, 45 

Farragut, Admiral David Glas- 
gow, 40, 51, 65 
Fashionable Tour, 190 
Five Civilized Tribes, 92-98 
Flint, Timothy, 57, 66 
Floating dance halls, 180-181 
Flood control, 235, 236-237 
Floods, 23, 129-132, 151 
Fort Armstrong, 203 
Fort Atkinson, 202 
Fort Benton, 222, 226, 228 
Fort Bent's, 89 
Fort Chartres, 146 
Fort Clarke, 202 


Fort Crawford, 

Fort Crook, 240 

Fort Donelson, 50 

Fort Edwards, 203 

Fort Gage, 148 

Fort Gibson, 97 

Fort Henry, 50 

Fort Madison, 202 

Fort Massac, 17 

Fort Mclntosh, 140 

Fort Peck, 235, 239 

Fort Pillow, 50 

Fort Randall, 227 

Fort Randolph, 226 

Fort Ridgely, 203 

Fort Riley, 240, 249 

Fort Ripley, 203 

Fort St. Anthony, 203 

Fort Smith, 89, 99, 100 

Fort Snelling, 203, 214 

Fort Union, 224, 225 

Fort Winnebago, 203 

Foster, Stephen Collins, 128 

Fox Indians, 200-201 

French Quarter, New Orleans, 

63, 68-73 
Fur trade, 128-129, 146, 152, 

204, 212, 224, 225 

Galena, 201-202 
Germantown, 137 
Gideon's Band, 1 16 
Gila River, 100 
Ginseng trade, 129 
Gold dust, 228 

Golden Eagle, 159, 160-165, 

177^ 183, 217 
Golden Rule, 20 
Gordon C. Greene, 26, 109, 


Government lights, 18, 127-128 
Grant, Ulysses S., 50-52, 133 
Great Miami River, 22 
Green River, 121 
Greene, Captain Mary, 28, 

136, 140 
Greene, Captain Tom, 27, 104, 

Gregg, Josiah, 98, 99 


Haines Bluff, 41 
Hannibal, 172 
Harpe's Head, 54 
Hay, John, 169 
Hearn, Lafcadio, 68 
Heatwave, 190-193 
Henderson, 17 
Hennepin Canal, 213 
Herbert, Victor, 172 
Hoover, Herbert Clark, 127 
Horse theater, 137 
Houseboats, 119-120 
Howells, William Dean, 141 
Huckleberry Finn, 173 

Illinois River, 168, 197 
Independence, 98 
Innocents Abroad, 173 
Islands, names of, 144 




Jackson, Andrew, 65, 94 
John Ordway, 221-3124. 


Kanawha River, 121 
Kansas City, 248 
Kansas River, 349 
Kaskaskia, 111, 146, 148, 150- 

Kaskaskia River, 148-149 

Kaw River, 248 
Kentucky meals, 138 
Kentucky River, 22, 121 

Lafayette, Marquis de, 17 

Lafitte, Jean, 65 

Law, John, 89 

Lead mining, 201-202 

Lee, Robert E., 133-134 

Leech River, 143 

Levees, 236 

Lewis and Clarke Expedition, 

Leyhe, Captain W. H. "Buck," 

158, 161 

Licking River, 22 
Life on the Mississippi, 173 
Little Hocking River, 140 
Little Kanawha River, 121, 


Little Miami River, 22 
Little Muskingum River, 140 
Llano Estacado, 79-81 

Loggy Bayou, 77 
Longfellow, Henry Wad 

worth, 46 

Louisiana Purchase, 85, 224 
Louisiana, slave code of, 66 
Louisville, 17 
Lumber camps, 207 
Lumbering, 206*209 


Mackenzie, General, 80 
Mademoiselle Modiste, 172 
Marais des Cygnes River, 250 
Marcy, Captain Randolph B., 

78>8 5 

Mardi Gras, 73-74 
Marine Insurance, 122-124 
Martin's Ferry, 141 
McKenzie, Kenneth, 225 
Memphis, 33 
Migration of Five Civilized 

Tribes, 92-98 
Minnesota River, 203, 216 
Mississippi Bubble, 31 
Mississippi River, 28-35, 111 
Mississippi River locks, 166, 

183-184, 186-187, 194-195 
Mississippi River, Lower, 107, 

Mississippi River, Middle, 15, 

Mississippi River, Upper, 15, 

143, 178-184, 187 
Missouri River, 15, 143, 171, 

219-220, 221, 228-241 



Missouri River Commission, 


Monongahela River, 121 
Montez, Lola, 114 
Moonlight boats, 153-159, 217 
Moravian settlements, 175 
Mormons, 251 
Mormon Trail, 249 
Mound City, 17 
Muskingum River, 121 
Mussel boats, 181-183 


Natchez, 52, in 
Natchez Indians, 85, 199 
Natchez-on-the-Hill, 52-57 
Natchez Trace, 53-55 
Natchez-under-the-Hill, 56-57, 


Natchitoches, 85 
Nauvoo, 174-175 
Negro dances, 67 
New Iberia, 44 
New Madrid, 33 
New Orleans, 15, 40, 62-74, 160 
New Orleans, battle of, 65 
New Orleans' food, 71 
Niagara Falls, 190 

Ohio River, 15, 100, 115, 143 

Oklahoma, 82, 98 
Old Spanish Trail, 44 
Omaha, 246 
Omaha Indians, 37 

Oregon Trail, 100, 249 
Orleans Theatre, 71 
Osage Indians, 37 
Osage River, 249-250 
Owensboro, 17 

Packet Race, New Orleans to 
St. Louis, 107-108 

Packets (see also Steamboats), 
32, 100, 107, 109, 162-163 

Paducah, 17 

Painted Rock, 215 

Parkman, Francis, 216 

Patti, Adelina, 68, 70 

Pemberton, General John Clif- 
ford, 50, 52 

Pepin Lake, 204-205 

Petersen, William J., 205 

Piasa Bluff, 185 

Pig's Eye, 199 

Pike Counties, 169-170 

Pike County Ballads, 169-170 

Pike, Zebulon M., 178 

Pilot canals, 231-232 

Pilots, river, 208 

Pioneer settlements, 149-150 

Platte River, 88, 243, 248-249 

Plutarch's Lives, 153 

Poplars (cottonwood), 242 

Port Gibson, battle of, 50 

Port Hudson, surrender of, 50 

Porter, Admiral David Dixon, 

4*> 8 3" 8 4 9* 
Prairie du Chien, 200, 212 

262 INDEX 

Quapaw Indians, 37 
Quincy, 210 


Railroads, 206, 228 

Red River, 30, 75-87, 171, 214 

Red River Raft, 76-78 

Redskins, 199-204 

Reelfoot Lake, 33 

Rio Grande, 88 

River trade, 32, 53, 86, 100, 

Rock Island Rapids, 186 
Rock River, 213 
Ross, General, 41 
Roustabouts, 191-192 

Sabine Forks, battle of, 83 

Sabine River, 81 

Sac Indians, 200-201 

St. Charles Theatre, 24 

St. Croix River, 207 

St. Louis, 152, 159-160, 212 

St. Martinville, 44, 47 

St. Paul, 199,205,217 

Ste. Genevieve, 146-147 

Salt River, 22 

Santa Fe, 98, 100 

Santa Fe Trail, 98-100 

Schletker, Captain Arthur J., 


Seminole Indians, 96 
Sergeant Floyd, 246, 250 

Sergeant Pryor> 221 
Shanty boats, 119-120 
Shawneetown, 17 
Sherman, William Tecumseh, 

42* 6 *> 92 

Shreve, Captain Henry M., 77 

Shreveport, 78, 83 

Side-wheelers (see also Steam- 
boats), 31 

Sioux City, 219, 226 

Sioux uprising, 203 

Smith, Joseph, 174 

Smith, Captain Sam G., 91, 164 

Smithland, 18 

Snagboats, 91, 187, 216 

Staked Plain, 79-81 

Steamboat Age, 31, 40, 91, 156, 

Steamboat building, 121 

Steamboat society, 191 

Steamboats, 85-86, 100, 115, 
202, 203, 213, 226-227 

Steamboats, names of, 97, 178 

Stern-wheelers (see Steam- 

Stillman's Run, battle of, 201 

Streams, names of, 200 

Streckfus, Captain Roy, 158 

Tallahatchie River, 39, 41 
Taylor, General Dick, 83 
Taylor, Zachary, 61, 176, 203 
Tennessee River, 23, 121 
Tennessee Valley, 23-24 
Thomas, Captain Henry, 246 



Thousand and One Nights, 


Tocqueville, De, 213 
Tom Sawyer, 173 
Totem poles, 196 
Towboats, 109-110, 115, 118, 


Trading posts, 211-212 
Trail of Tears, The, 94 
TVA, 23 
Twain, Mark, 106, 172-174 

Vicksburg, 38, 40, 49-52 
Vieux Carre*, New Orleans, 63, 


Vincennes Trace, 149 
Voodoo doctors, 33, 67 


Wabash Island, 21 
Wabash River, 21-22 
Waterways Journal, 28, 91, 

164, 222 
Wharfboats, 116-117 

Whistling Dick, 49 
White pine, 206-207 
White River, 36-38 
Whitman, Walt, 193 
Wichita, 88 
Wilson, Bully, 18 
Winnebago Indians, 202, 203- 

Wisconsin River, 190, 195, 207, 

212, 213 
Wolves, 245 

Woodland legend, 196-198 
Wright, Captain Donald T., 

27, 222 

Yallobusha River, 39 
Yazoo River, 38-42 
Yellow River, 215 
Yellowstone River, 224 

"Zabette, Nichette, Denyse/ 
poem, 69